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May 2nd, 2011

Game or Tool? It’s What You Make of It

There are two things you can count on, it seems, whenever a new social media platform emerges. First, the social media “A List” will flock to it, trying to get in early and claim bragging rights for having “discovered” it first (not to mention getting in early enough to build up followings so that by the time “everyone” catches up, they maintain their social media “player” status). Second, there will be a backlash from other corners of the social media world dismissing the platform as little more than a vehicle for A List narcissism and self-validation, and refusing to consider any possible benefit the platform might have beyond massaging some egos.

The latest platform to generate such passion in both directions is Empire Avenue. Depending on who you listen to, it’s either about to become the next significant social influence measuring tool or the latest shiny object to capture an increasingly ADD social media audience’s attention – and an ethically troublesome one at that.  The truth may lie somewhere in between.

There certainly is an element to Empire Avenue that would seem to encourage narcissism; your stock rises as people buy into you to increase the value of their portfolio. A steroid-enhanced ego playing Empire Avenue could easily be convinced that the game reinforces their own significance and importance, and I’m quite sure that some of the folks playing it do so because it’s just another place for people to see how famous they are. This is one of the negatives of the game. Overdeveloped egos are already overly abundant in the social media universe, and games like this that reward or encourage them will just contribute to a growing negative perception of social media among the unconverted.

On the other hand, a) It’s just a game. Let’s not take everything so seriously; b) One of the holy grails of social media is some sort of a tool that somehow manages to quantify influence, reach and relevance within the various networks without reducing people to follower counts and fans, so something like this could end up being a step in that direction, given enough time to develop; and c) Reflexively rejecting a new and potentially useful new tool just because of the perceived ego of some of its earliest adopters would be… well, just foolish. Lots of people dismissed Twitter in 2007 as a tool for narcissists and a waste of time. Four years on, it’s become a valuable tool for everything from brand awareness to customer service. Missing a similar opportunity simply out of distaste for early adopters would be a shame.

It’s possible that as Empire Avenue evolves it could end up being the most tangible way yet we have to chart not only someone’s network but the mutual value placed in various connections within that network.  More likely, it could end up being a place where emerging voices are found a little earlier, as watch lists and stock prices track the rising value placed in a particular individual. If I’ve never heard of Jane Smith, but suddenly lots of people I know are listing or investing in her and her stock rapidly increases in value, I’ll figure that there’s a reason people are placing that value in her and I’ll go check out her blog or follow her on Twitter. Surfacing new, talented voices can be challenging in the crowded and sometimes loud top of the social media world; any tool that makes it a little easier to do so is a more than welcome development.

One of the problems with the speed of change in the social media world is that people feel it moves so fast – and feel so much pressure to find the Next Big Thing before the competition does – that we often don’t give a nascent platform an opportunity to develop and grow into whatever it and its community can make it. There’s a pressure of sorts to pass judgment almost instantaneously and take sides. In the case of Empire Avenue, it’s less than a year old. It’s still developing. Maybe it’s the Next Big Thing. Maybe it’s the next Shiny Object. The rush to proclaim it either one obscures the fact that maybe, it’s just a game.

About the Author
Christopher Barger is Senior Vice President of Global Digital at Voce/Porter Novelli. You can follow him on Twitter @cbarger.

Filed in Social Networks

Add Your Comment10 Responses to “Game or Tool? It’s What You Make of It”

Tom Ohle on May 2nd, 2011 at 10:39 am

This post is strangely sensible, and I just want to argue. 🙂 Thanks for a level-headed look at the site, Mr. Barger. It’s unfortunate that so many are quick to pounce on anything that gets some airtime these days; I suppose it’s just a byproduct of our increasingly cynical online society. We realize that Empire Avenue might not be for everyone — I don’t think there’s a product on the planet that is — but we hope that people will dive in and judge its value for themselves, rather than reading a dismissive (or, alternatively, highly positive) blog post and letting that influence their opinion.

We’re always open to feedback about how we can improve, but at the end of the day, we want to provide a place where you can meet new people, get an understanding of your social media efforts across the web, and have some fun. No more, no less 🙂

Christopher Barger on May 2nd, 2011 at 11:06 am

Hi Tom… good to hear from you. If you really just want to argue, my next post will bring up politics, religion, and sex. 😉

I share your frustration that people seem to pounce on anything getting some attention; I also get frustrated at the rush from opposite corners to proclaim something the best thing since sliced bread. Usually, moderation is wise in both directions — and I agree with you, the best thing for people to do is just to experience and then decide for themselves.

In the case of Empire Avenue, I think the smartest course of action for those trying to read tea leaves is to just let it evolve. Your goals — meet people, understand your social efforts, have fun — are simple enough… let’s just take those goals at face value and let the thing evolve, rather than proclaiming it savior or devil.

Good on ya for being so aware of what’s being said about Empire Avenue, and for being so responsive. That’s a healthy sign, I’d say. 🙂

Shelly Kramer on May 2nd, 2011 at 11:20 am

Well said, Bargerello.

I think that it’s always infinitely easier to condemn than it is to approach something with an open mind. I originally thought Empire Avenue was just another bright, shiny time suck – and it might be. But I am doing what seems to make the most sense – at least to me – claiming my account, being patient, watching, reading, waiting — and we’ll see.

There was a time that I thought Twitter was ridiculous. And over time, it became one of my very favorite platforms. Same is true of Facebook. Thank goodness I decided to be more open-minded about those platforms – since, but for them, I wouldn’t know you.

Shelly @shellykramer

Shel Holtz on May 2nd, 2011 at 11:58 am

While I agree with everything here, Christopher, I’ll take issue with the “just a game” notion. The game layer is going to become more prevalent in a lot of ways given the trend toward mobile and apps. The idea of being rewarded for accomplishing something (I heard one TED talk where an example given was points for brushing your teeth for the full two minutes) is going to become more common and is likely to influence behaviors. While I’ve never been excited about unlocking a badge in Foursquare, and couldn’t care less about badges in Empire Avenue, the game concept is one that’s worth attention instead of dismissal.

Geoff Livingston on May 2nd, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Here’s where you are wrong. It’s just a game where you BUY AND SELL people, objectifying them and affixing worth to them. Sorry, dude, but if that’s the message you want to send home and to your clients, go for it.

Tom Ohle on May 2nd, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Geoff… if it was “invest in…” would you feel the same way? It’s a measure of who is engaged and where. Can we not have scores without suggesting that it has some bearing on their value as human beings?

Rosemary ONeill on May 3rd, 2011 at 9:30 am

I dipped my toe in the waters of Empire Avenue last week, and it’s definitely fun. I spend a lot more time on it than I anticipated, and the chat rooms sortof reminded me of my old IRC days (a bit “wild west”). I do wonder whether the complexity of it, combining game, scoring, investment concepts, tracking, conversation, a shop, and more will keep it from mass adoption. I guess we’ll see what happens, right? In the meantime, I’m off to buy some Shelly Kramer 🙂

Jeremy Hilton on May 3rd, 2011 at 11:26 am

Shel – Having registered and used EA, I’m squarely in the “it’s just a game” camp. And having spent 4 hours in the last day playing it, a pretty fun one. But that shouldn’t be construed as me, or anyone else who calls it just a game, as “dismissing gamification”.

At the core of the site is the activity of earning Eaves (virtual currency) by buying shares low, selling them high and earning dividends. If you run out of Eaves, the site owners have conveniently provided you the ability to buy more…just enter your credit card number and voila!

I guess I’m just struggling to see what lies below the game layer in EA, besides a revenue stream for the site owners. Frankly, I don’t see EA as gamification, just as I don’t see Monopoly as gamification.

[disclosure: I am a shareholder of Chris Barger (BARGER) stock]

Al Brocious on May 3rd, 2011 at 3:39 pm

I like the “gamefication” it is fun although it can be a bit elitist. However, I really don’t see it as the next big thing more like another thing. What I don’t like is the amount of information they want to collect via Facebook. It is rather extreme and makes me wonder what they will really be doing with the data. In my opinion it is not the next big thing in social media but the next big thing in collecting marketing data.

Does anyone know what they are doing with the data?

Christopher Barger on May 4th, 2011 at 8:19 pm

@Shelly – First, awww! Thanks – that was sweet to say. Second, I made the mistake of being overly dismissive of Twitter at first as well, and it’s a mistake I’m determined not to make again. I won’t ever just buy into a shiny object, but I’m going to explore it to learn what I can and determine for myself whether I think it has a future.

@Shel – You have a valid point about game-models being increasingly effective (and thus increasingly prevalent) in drawing people into a campaign or a platform. They work, at least as an initial incentive. The question to me is whether EA — or any platform — provides enough value that it holds users’ attention and keeps them there after the novelty/fun of the “game” part wears off. The jury’s still out for me on EA — not that I think it can’t do that, just that I’ll be interested to see how many people are still paying attention in six months as avidly as they are now.

@Geoff – I know you and I have gone rounds in other forums on this, and that you think I’m smoking crack. 😉 But I’ll say again here, I don’t think “buy and sell” is offensive when the game is modeled on the stock market. Besides, people don’t buy and sell ME (or any other person) in EA, they buy STOCK. It’s not like once Shelly buys me, no one else can and I have no choice but to do what Shelly says and blog about what she wants me to blog about. I respect that you’re really bothered by the premise, I just would argue that to me it doesn’t hold.

@Tom – I think that’s the trick, isn’t it? Finding some way to “score” people’s activity, network and influence without devaluing them or suggesting that they’re not “influential enough” to engage with? (Whether that’s what’s intended by the arbiters of such scores, that is unfortunately how some businesses will use them.)

@Rosemary – complexity is an issue, though I think that when combined with ego a game doesn’t have to be as simple as one without an ego stroke. Time will indeed tell, though.

@Jeremy – Thanks for investing in me. 😉 I agree with you — something being “just a game” isn’t intended to be dismissive of the platform as much as just an expression that I think some of the reaction — both glowing and dismayed — might be a bit overblown at this point.

@Al – Yeah, given the reputations of many social networks for being cavalier with users’ privacy, it does give one pause to see how much info is involved in this or any new game. Perhaps Tom Ohle, if you’re still checking in, you might be better equipped to answer this question?

Thanks for the feedback and comments, everyone!