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Empire Avenue and Social Networking Philosophies

September 28, 2011

Empire Avenue LogoNearly three weeks ago, I joined a social networking game called Empire Avenue. The premise of the game is somewhat simple: Empire Avenue in many ways is like its own social networking site, but instead of befriending people (like on Facebook), following people (like on Twitter), adding people to your circles (Google+), or linking in with people (LinkedIn), you “buy” or “invest” in them. This investment aspect becomes the foundation for the game…for unlike other social networking sites, which are effectively competitors with one another, Empire Avenue encourages you to participate more on the other sites. Why? How so?

Because that’s how you improve your value at Empire Avenue! What Empire Avenue (which seems to be shortened to EAv usually) does is it tracks your activity on many other social networking and social media sites (like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, Youtube, Foursquare, and Instagram), keeping track of how often your content is liked, commented or shared (so quality engagement matters more than quantity pure broadcasting), and over time it figures out a way to convert these measures of activity into dividend pools of the Empire Avenue currency (eaves), which then are distributed to your shareholders.

In some ways, it’s perverse in a way I would’ve never imagined from a social networking site. It seems pretty popular to say, for example, that Facebook finds ways to monetize its users various activities on its site with its third-party affiliates…And it seems pretty popular to complain about the way that people can creep on one another’s every activity posted online…but Empire Avenue puts a twist on this process by making people conscious of the (fake) monetization they themselves can cultivate from their own activity. (If you thought that social networking caused people to try to “impress” others inauthentically, imagine what putting a price to online activity will do…)

However, I’ve grown to like the idea. Maybe I shouldn’t be surfing the internet more, but being involved in Empire Avenue has made me at least a teensy bit more conscious of my quality of interaction online. It has also made me consider becoming more active on some other sites (e.g., I got a Flickr account just for EAv, and I at the very least check LinkedIn more often since getting on Empire Avenue) in order to improve my dividend yield (I’m not a finance major, so I don’t have a ton of appreciation for how EAv mimics or diverges from offline stock markets, but one thing I have caught on to is that EAv tends to ignore capital gains from a calculation perspective, so what it calls “return on investment” seems to purely be a measure of dividend yield) at EAv.

…so, to the extent that social networking is a good thing (…and I’m aware of many for whom this already is a controversial premise), I think that EAv supports my activity elsewhere.

Empire Avenue Connection Scores

My Empire Avenue Connection Scores -- these are out of 100. So you can see Facebook is my strongest, followed by Twitter, and the rest...suck.

However, there are aspects of Empire Avenue that I haven’t quite cracked yet, as well as some aspects that I’m not too enthusiastic about.

The Different Philosophy of Empire Avenue

See, Empire Avenue, in addition to being a game about one’s involvement with other social networking avenues, is itself a social networking site. But its foundation is considerably different from other networking sites. For example, when I go to a site like Facebook or Google+, I am looking to reconnect with people whom I already know in an offline context, or with people whom I’ve associated elsewhere in an online context. Twitter has a different focus somewhat for me, because I use it to follow people and groups based on my interests (and then I try to interact with those people as I go along).

But Empire Avenue doesn’t really fit either of these philosophies. For one, it’s not likely that your friends will be on Empire Avenue, because it’s not as ubiquitous as Facebook (obviously), and in fact has what appears to be a niche skew (of course, you can find people from all perspectives, walks of life, etc., but like twitter, it seems to me that it’s really easy to see that there are a lot of people who do social networking for a career on these sites.) Secondly, buying your friends just because they are your friends ends up often being a dumb investment strategy — there’s no guarantee that your friends will have the best activity on social networking sites, because maybe they actually have lives offline. And if they do have offline lives and don’t put time and energy into Facebook and Twitter all day, then there’s no way their dividend yield/return on investment will be attractive.

So, instead, while I see many philosophies for whom to invest in on Empire Avenue, it seems that things ultimately drill down to a calculation of return on investment, an anticipation of their future continued engagement on various social sites, etc., So, I can say for sure (and I think this is widely the case) that my portfolio is full of people for whom 1) I didn’t know outside of an Empire Avenue context, 2) I don’t really know outside an Empire Avenue context even now, and 3) I probably won’t seek to know outside of an Empire Avenue context (unless I have a change of heart), because from what I can tell from a glance, their interests do not coincide with mine.

I just know that whatever they talk/blog/tweet/photograph/check in about, they do it often enough (to a receptive enough audience) that EAv has deemed it to be valuable.

…this isn’t too problematic, on its own. After all, maybe this is just a genius way at getting very different people to meet each other. And since we were attracted to one another by our high return on investment (thus signalling that we are very active socially),  it’s more likely that there’s more stuff for us to talk about.

So, what’s so ornery?

But there are some other problems, philosophically, that I have with the system. One thing that a lot of people talk about on Empire Avenue is connecting…connecting seems to be the buzzword for a kind of Empire Avenue etiquette that is related to a concept called loyalty. For example, when someone buys you, then you should write them a shout (think Facebook “wall post,” except for EAv) thanking them. (Loyalty includes related ideas such as holding shares when you buy them [to the extent that some say that not buying shares in the first place is preferable to buying then selling later] or endorsing RSS feeds so that they may be upgraded to blog status by EAv.) As Jake Kern (e)JKW put it:

I mentioned this briefly the other night, but don’t get caught in the buy-back trap. Like I said, 5 shares will (usually) lock in a shareholder, but in the early days, you need to purchase stocks that are right for your portfolio & let others purchase you because they believe you are a good investment. For instance, I’m just above 150e/share with an average Div of 1.25. Mostly, I feel that I’m a good long-term investment, but for an account like yours that is brand new, you would be much better served by purchasing stocks that are in the 20e range with a Div of .25 up to stocks in the 70e range with a Div of .80.

If you get caught in reciprocal buys, you won’t have enough to invest the way you need. Also, is the person expecting a share-for-share exchange when their share price is 3 times the amount of your shares and/or has a lower Div than you? How is that fair?! Connect with people by becoming friends on Facebook, following on Twitter, and connecting on Flickr, YouTube, etc.

Jake mentions that reciprocal buy backs are often unfeasible (especially with stock price differentials). But buying a few shares will generally make the connection.

…but it’s the very last line of his second paragraph that bothers me. If you can’t pay that much in eaves for shares, then why not help them improve their activity directly by engaging them on their social networking sites (e.g., becoming friends on Facebook, following on Twitter, connecting on Flickr, YouTube, etc.,)?

For me, my Facebook is for people I know. And even when I’m considering Facebook fan pages, the things I “like” on Facebook (or the videos I favorite on Youtube, etc.,) represent my tastes to me. So, to befriend people just to “connect” with them on Empire Avenue seems to me to be a dilution of why I use Facebook. To connect with people by “liking” their Facebook page or favoriting their video seems to fall under the same conundrum — no longer do my likes, my favorites, etc., represent my interests. Instead, they represent something I did as a favor to someone for Empire Avenue.

(This is something that has itched at me. Since I began a Facebook page for an organization of which I’m an officer [I will not name names but you can probably guess or investigate to find out], I connected that Facebook page to my Empire Avenue account. I started seeing people from Empire Avenue start “liking” the page, which certainly does help my engagement score via that metric, but what bothers me is that now, I have to be aware that my page’s likes aren’t all “authentic”. They aren’t all indicative of who cares about what the page does, who would be interested in hearing news, etc.)

…I currently see this as a dark side of EAv. Maybe I’ll grow out of that stage (in the 20 days in which I have been a member, I have rapidly evolved and shifted in terms of what I like most and least about the game.) However, one thing I will say is that I was always very reluctant to put a LinkedIn account to EAv (because I hold my LinkedIn page at arm’s length from everything else I do socially online, and EAv threatens to collapse the distance between them), and now I’m wondering whether I ought not remove the Facebook Fan page, the LinkedIn page, or something else to maintain those separate spheres.

It may be possible that Empire Avenue makes impossible the goals of maintaining a semblance of an organic, yet “siloed” existence via various social networking sites.

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One Comment
  1. Nice article. I would distance them as you sort of answered your question yourself. If people REALLY connect then they will be good connections anyway and the rest will just be just clicking on buttons to give you some social juice.

    I am GrangeWEb if you want to drop by and I have only been on 8-9 days and like it so far but getting better share pric e mean the tough miles are ahead…

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