Chumming for Mad Props

October 18, 2008

Social Networking

I’ve been in IT for many years.  And through most of those years, I have striven for excellence in both form and function.  I have striven for the recognition of subordinates, peers and superiors.  But in all things, I have sought recognition of personal excellence.  And like most folks, we are happiest when we believe folks recognize our talents – and applaud them in one way or another.

So what does that have to do with social networking and/or the nascent technologies of today?  Simply put, it has everything to do with it.  As some of you know, I am a music aficionado.  OK, a better word would be neophyte.  I love music – of all kinds.  But I am utterly talentless when it comes to music.  I know what I like to hear.  But I could not reproduce any such sounds using only my own abilities. So I am comfortable simple listening t music.  I love being transported to different places.  And I love being inspired to become greater than I am.

Modern technology lets me listen to almost any music.  And it lets me share music.  So everyone must be saying “Lorin, you must be using Last.fm.”  And everyone would be right.  I do like Last.fm.  But it is a service that catalogs what I listen to and then distributes that information to other platforms (e.g., Twitter, etc).  It can also be used to “share” music with others – although you should only share those things that you own the copyright for.  Otherwise, expect a knock on the virtual or physical door from the RIAA and the newly empowered Pro-IP cabinet leadership (once selected by our next President).

But I’m wanderign off topic.  Last.fm has a lot of great featrues.  But I think of Last.fm in the same way I think of blogging: it is rich – and somewhat cumbersome.  What we really need is a micro-blogging annalog to music.  Enter the Blip.fm service.

Blip.fm has lots of capabilities.  And it would take far too much time to list and explain them all.  But one feature is truly compelling: the notion of public praise.  Blip.fm promotes the notion that their community “rates” its membership.  Members can “listen” to favorite DJ’s.  This is an analog to the Twitter following that a user collects.  And members can give “props” (tokens of virtual respect/attention) to one another.

OK, this sounds pretty mundane.  But just like some folks on Twitter “whore” their postings for followers (er, stop thinking about Jason Calacanis or Robert Scoble), Dj’s can position themselves to gain “respect” through both followers and props.  In many ways, this kind of competitiveness drives lots of folks.

But Blip.fm adds just a little more to the equation.  Not only do you want to have followers and props, but you also want some visible/public recognition of your talents.  In the case of Blip.fm, DJ’s can receive “stars” (virtual badges of success).  These are based upon the number of listeners you have attained.  And it is amazing to see just how much a little star can push your behavior.  I kept posting until I gained my first level of public acknowledgment (the silver star of 50 listeners).  It amazes me how a cynical curmudgeon like me can be motivated by a little star.  That simple validation subtly altered my activity within the Blip.fm community.

At first, I just “blipped” (i.e., referenced) favorite songs.  But everyone does that.  And most of the songs I “blipped” had already been “blipped” by others.  So I started to look for an “angle” whereby I could gain the attention of others.

At first I focused upon Christian music.  That gained me some listeners.  But that community is smaller than the general population of Blip.fm.  So for that strategy to work, I would need to invite a whole lot of friends who shared my love of contemporary Christian music.  It was a good idea – but it would require a huge investment of time.  And I wanted more immediate results.

So I took a different approach.  I decided to become a purveyor of cover songs.  And this niche worked quite well.  I’ve been linking to famous covers and/or famous originals with infamous covers.  And there is a lot of fertile ground in that vein.  So I’ve plumbed Wikipedia, Last.fm and my love of diverse musical genres to build a unique meme for myself.

And I am now a DJ with sufficient listeners to have achieved my first level of recognition: the silver star.  But there are multiple levels of “stardom” in the Blip.fm universe.  And I feel a compulsion to achieve higher levels of recognition.  If it were anyone but myself, I would call such a person a hapless “tool.”

But my situation proves a point: social networks will become more successful when creators find means in which to actively challenge their members.  And simple (and visible) tokens of appreciation and/or expertise can have an inordinate affect on members.  Build systems that reward members.  And build systems that pulicly praise your members.  It will spawn more active and more devoted communities.

-Roo

If you’re interested by what you’ve read, check out the YouTube video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MuOL3JhPcBw

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