Jeff has been talking about how efforts like Judy's Book and Riffs go about trying to get users to contribute content, and whether or not content from strangers is of value to anyone. People are trying to go about solving such problems by essentially "paying" for content and "scoring" the content via ratings, trust measures, etc.
Seems very heavy to me.
How about something more lightweight, like this...
- I query my network (my real network, not one I built on an online social network) for a recommendation:
- Queries never have to take place on the website, nor does anyone have to be a member to answer them. I start out by uploading or just plugging in/pointing to some kind of address book of friends. Then, I contact a single e-mail/sms number/IM bot preset to output my query to a certain group. So, I could IM "askmyfriends" and AOL, and it knows that ceo21 is me and that it should hit my database of friends.
- I ask it something simple like, "Does anyone know a cheap Thai restaurant near Union Square?" It knows what "thai restaurant" is and it knows "cheap" from "good" or "fast". As for Union Square, it might not be able to figure that one out, so it might just IM me back and say "Where is Union Square?" Then, I'd have to tell it a street address and it would probably send me back something silly like, "Is this where Union Square is in New York for everyone?" Yes... but thanks for asking, because "my office" might mean something else to someone else.
- The question gets sent to all my friends via e-mail. First timers also get a little note saying "This note was sent via "askmyfriends". Do you want to be contacted differently the next time Charlie needs to ask his friends for a recommendation? Do you want to check out some of the answers people have been giving on the site? etc... This way, they can sign up to get an IM themselves, or an SMS... or some ordered "presence" combo. EDIT: To counter spam (thanks for the feedback, Jeremy), two fixes: 1) Ten of my friends may, at first, get a note saying "Charlie has just joined a service to help him ask his friends for recommendations. We want to make sure he's not spam. Is he legit?" Once you get a certain about of yeses, then it allows the message to go through, to make sure I'm a real person. A certain about of "this is a spammer" messages bounce me off the system. 2) My contact database may only be build through my e-mail inbox. So, I can only add people who I've e-mailed at least twice and they've e-mailed me back twice in the last month. Other ideas are welcome.
- They can respond the way the got asked the question (not only through a site), and the service can try and enterpret the results given the criteria I put in. When Fred texts back "lemn grs", given that I was asking for a thai restaurant near Union Square, the service could check back with him and ask, "Did you mean Lemon Grass?" They could even ask for a rating (how cheap is this?), but that's it for the follow up questions.
- This quick little back and forth generates a lot of metadata. It connects me to me and Fred w/o even requiring either one of us to "add to friends" or requiring anyone to signup. All I did was point my question to my contact list, and Fred responded. What it also did was tack on a vote and perhaps even a specific rating to a local restaurant from someone I know and trust. Because, at the end of the day, that's all I'm really looking for... not a site that I need to play on all day.
- The website for this service would be an afterthought... a way to collect and present most importantly, my own stored queries and answers. Because, like del.icio.us, you can go a long way by just solving a simple problem (in this case, storing and allowing me to easily retrieve recommendations) for one user. The network affects come second. You can then ask to seek out recommendations from friends of others, because if Fred gives me the Lemon Grass tip, and I liked it, I might also want to see recommendations from the people who are tipping him off, particularly in the same category. In fact, maybe you don't even allow people to add their own content. All you can do is get recommendations from others by asking a question. (Sort of like not letting people self-tag.)
There are key differences with this idea than from what's out there:
- The service gets built not by getting people to contribute first, but by getting people to solicit the content from others for their own benefit. Its not "join this site and list your favorite places" its "please answer my quick question right now." That's microchunking.
- Decentralization comes first. A lot of people built a site and then work on SMS, IM, chat, e-mail plugins later or as an afterthought. How about someone built these communication tools first and save the AJAX for desert?
- Social networking is implicit. We're connected because we've actually connected on a Q&A, not because I've added you as a contact, friend, stalker victim, etc. This is a much more natural and passive way to build out a users real social network.
- People join after using the site and contributing content. After people have answered a few questions, you can remind them in the question e-mails, "Hey, thanks for all your great recommendations... if you ever need to go back and find all 4 of them, they're conveniently stored here. If you want to ask your friends to help you out for once (since you've been so helpful to them), you can do it here as well." Someone could participate heavily and never have to join anything, upload a photo, etc.
Well, in addition to advertising, how about selling restaurants access to the best local critics and let it go blindly through to the users who recommend the most.
So, if I'm opening up a new Italian restaurant in Brooklyn near Gino's, I think it would be worth it for me to invite the top ten local Italian restaurant recommenders to my restaurant at half price, no? From a raters perspective, I think I'd probably answer more questions if I thought some dinner coupons would come my way.
Multiply that for movies, music, bars, books x hundreds of cities.... you get the point.
Maybe you wouldn't even need advertisers... you could just "sell the right to offer free stuff to the sneezers."