DEMOSpring2010 featured a lot of variations of social networks; in fact, it got so I was relieved when a technology being unveiled didn’t tweet, text, or update its Facebook status. (For one of those, see my videoblog on General Inspection, an automatic parts identification system for hardware stores.)
Two examples—Everloop and KarmaKorn.
Everloop is a social media site for kids who too old for Club Penguin (a website for early elementary schoolers) and are too young for Facebook (thirteen is Facebook Legal). There is an obvious niche here—plenty of tweens, including my 11 year old—are counting the days until they can get their own Facebook pages. Many aren’t waiting—they’re just lying about their ages.
Everloop presents itself as a safe-from-creepers place for tweens to go on the Internet. Unfortunately, Everloop has filled that space with commerce—the kids are given points to buy and sell things, like access to games and video content. And much of what they’re offered to “buy” is intended to be branded—send your friend a Coke, not a generic soda. After watching the Everloop demo, I realized that every niche doesn’t need to be filled. On the plus side, Everloop coined a great description of a demographic--the post-Penguin set.
KarmaKorn has also bought into the points mentality of social network—it calls its points “kernels”, but thinks it can turn a passion for virtual commerce into a force for social good. Folks who sign on with KarmaKorn will start out with some number of kernels in their bank accounts; they can use those kernels to encourage other people to do good things, for themselves or society (take your kids for a walk or give a homeless person a sandwich and I’ll pay 10 kernels), or earn kernels from others. The company plans to keep itself in business by charging large companies who want to position themselves as socially responsible to participate (earn 100 kernels from Weyerhaeuser if you go plant a tree). I don’t totally get the impulse to collect virtual goods on social media, but when I see how many people I know got sucked into Farmville, I have to admit that I know it exists. And if KarmaKorn can get people away from their computers and out helping society, they’re pointing this impulse in the right direction.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.