Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Empire Avenue (Social Networking)

This is icon for social networking website. Th...
This is part two in my series of posts documenting my thoughts and experiences on Empire Avenue. Previously I wrote a bit about the game aspect of the site. As I wrote then, Empire Avenue has three major aspects. It is a game in which you buy and sell stock with virtual currency called "Eaves". It is a social networking site with communities and finally it is scores and ranks people based on their participation in various social networking. The thing I haven't told you is that you are buying and selling stock in other peoples social network activity. There's a lot more to it than that, but that is the gist. You can go back and read my previous entry for more information on the game.

The social networking aspect of Empire Avenue is probably the least well developed of the three portions. There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, the platform is still in need of development. Empire Avenue offers three types of communities.
  1. City based: City communities are created by Empire Avenue and are not all inclusive
  2. Interests: Things like Blogging, Entertainment and Art. These communities are also created by Empire Avenue
  3. Personal: These communities are created by Empire Avenue members who have met some very reasonable requirements. They can cover almost any topic
Anyone who is a member of a particular community can create a topic thread in that community. When I first joined you were limited to being a member of six total communities, two of each type. They've since upped it to three hundred I believe, one hundred of each type.

The topic threads do not currently have titles and are kind of cumbersome. It's also hard to tell when a new response has been added to a thread if you aren't already participating. Topics can be "pinned" at the top of communities but there doesn't seem to be a way to reduce the amount of real estate each pinned topic takes up. I'd like to be able to see the topic title and whether there is a new response. As it is I have to scroll down below pinned topics to see what has been posted recently. This isn't very enjoyable. 

The second issue with the social networking aspect of Empire Avenue is that the game portion gets in the way. It's not uncommon for people to make pointless posts just to pad their numbers. Empire Avenue has chosen to include activity on their site in the game scoring. This feels like a mistake to me. It tends to lower the quality of the interactions in some of the communities I frequent. On the flip side this does give people motivation to jump in and participate so it's a bit of a catch-22.

This isn't to say that there is no value to the social networking aspect of Empire Avenue. I have had a few good conversations and learned a thing or two over the past two plus weeks. Further refinement of their platform and policies should continue to push things in a good direction.

More than anything though this part of Empire Avenue seems like a conflict of interest to me. The game portion makes sense, as does the scoring of social network influence. The social networking aspect feels like an attempt to increase the appeal of the site which isn't a bad thing if it doesn't detract from their core purpose. In this case I think it does. It's kind of like the Nielson people starting their own TV network.

Not including Empire Avenue related activities in game scoring would be one approach to solving this issue.

I'll talk some more along these lines in the forth and final part of this series.

Image via Wikipedia
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