Posted by: Ben | June 6, 2009

Turning Into an Ecosystem

Having finished grad school, I’m now waiting for my job to begin.  In the meantime, I’ve been vacationing and have been able to hunker down and code a bit for  I’ve been working on some rudimentary versions of Facebook’s event updaters and news feed, as well as working on the internal mechanics of building formulas and sharing them with others.  So far it’s been going pretty well, given that I’m not much of a coder.

And as I tinker with the overall structure more, I’ve been coming up with lots of lofty ideas for how I want to ultimately look like.

For example, I would love to extend the Galapagos Islands theme and have different islands for the Galapag.users to play on, in some capacity.  There would be a welcoming island where people have to gather enough social capital and contribute back enough such that they can level up and use the full site.  There would be an island for the role-playing game that I intend to build using each person’s unique profile data.  I haven’t thought about how the islands will work exactly, but I want to layer tribes onto that as well.  One problem/benefit is that people have multiple tribes now, not isolated by geography alone.  Can you tie multiple facets of identity to a geographic location in any meaningful way besides having something as hollow as Facebook groups?

This whole way of thinking about islands allows me to build a sort of cultural map of the islands and layer on different aspects of human and social capital.  I’d love to build atmospherics into the islands such that islands have different weather patterns affected by how many people are using a particular part of the site (congestion, increased heat, dynamism) or how prominent the information on that island has become.  I’m not sure how rainy tropical seasons or perfect beach days could be converted from overall site statistics, but it’s a concept I want to explore in order to make the site a breathing entity.

A couple other ideas I had were to view the site as an ecosystem, and employ the Galapag.users to try to maintain the balance of all the different factors on the island, through incentives.  Was there a typhoon in Indonesia?  Perhaps the charity part of the site would offer more incentives when there are calls for Galapag.user action.  Are the long-time users unhappy with new features?  More attention would go there.  There would be hotspots and coldspots on the islands to direct peoples’ attention.  Obviously there would be multiple constituents and lots of issues, but my approach is to use a collaborative method in which users can help maintain the balance.  I’d like to build in Liz Coleman’s liberal arts education program, focusing students on actionable problems and not just fields of interest.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about is how to gather more data without people having to manually enter it.  A lot of the problem could be mitigated by taking on companies and organizations to enter in aggregate data.  Why should you have to enter what groceries or fast food meals you bought when those companies can do it quickly and easily not just for you but for everyone? (given a good registration system)  What if the government was sharing information about you to the database for its health services, social security, etc.?  Already I am working on allowing people to enter in info about you so they can help you complete your profile (with you having the final say in approving/declining that info, of course).

There are big issues, such as privacy concerns and getting organizations to share data.  These solutions are sort of pie-in-the-sky but perhaps in the future, our deathgrips on any shred of info we possess will become looser.  Perhaps we’ll be willing to share our info in order to benefit from the data that companies already enjoy about us.  Perhaps it will allow us to engage with companies and organizations better, if we can use universal logins and social data across sites.

Yahoo! has some wonderful documentation on building social capital and incentives into social networks.  I’ve thought about how to properly align incentives for users (in the way of points and achievement bonuses) with’s goals.  One thing I hate about most social networking projects is that they award people who spend 24 hours a day playing or people who just collect other friends or objects without any meaning behind them.  So the goal is not necessarily to reward those who have more time to play, but who can build more meaningful and important connections — true social capital.

I would like to reward notable figures on, like Nobel Prize winners…while at the same time building new metrics and fame for genuine networkers and builders of social capital.  Different people find different ways to be successful and any social networking site/human data platform should represent that.

So I’m thinking big here, which can be frustrating because the whole mentality for start-ups now is to do something really simple.  Everyone pushes you to refine an idea down to an essence — but that goes against the complex, generalist, all-encompassing nature of  Everyone’s in search of the next Twitter, a simple platform for messaging asymmetrically.  But who’s going to bring all this data together?

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