I recently met an entrepreneur at a hackathon – what are the chances of that happening? I’m interested in social media networks so this entrepreneur and I got into a conversation about social platforms; that’s how I found out about his new business.
The start-up my team mate, Scott Barnett , is launching is a directory called “bizyhood.” Scott told me he plans to tie his directory to local social networks, which was a little confusing for me . My first impulse was to think Yelp or any of a dozen other national and international business directories, so the local twist definitely caught my attention.
What The Yellow Pages Can Teach You About Networks
Because I wasn’t sure how Scott’s directory was different from others, I arranged a phone interview with him to happen a few days after the hackathon. During the interview I learned that in preparation for his start-up launch, Scott spends one day a week researching and writing in his blog – “bizyhood.” Mostly he writes about other directories and social media platforms, which gives him a broad understanding of what’s going on in the world existing between small businesses and online media.
Scott’s intention is to change the way these media are being used. He told me “we’re turning the internet “inside out” and I picked up on his comment. He was saying a workable secure internet has to be built form the bottom up instead of the top down.
For example, Scott writes about other platforms like YP, which is the extension of the now dying Yellow Pages. YP does citations, which means they cite businesses – offering the business’s name, address, phone number and website URL.
That’s what all directories do, but what interests Scott is the accessibility of the platform. Is it easy for a business owner to go on YP and list their business? According to Scott’s experience attempting to do just that, it is not easy. YP is a sales platform far more than it’s a directory so they don’t make it easy to do a listing without purchasing one of their enhanced listing.
By doing weekly research about other directories – and he’s been blogging for several years – Scott’s become well acquainted with the ins and outs of directory citations and business reviews. I asked Scott about the Yelp yellow star system and he explained that while the stars are easy and visible, they don’t really tell you much about the company they review. In fact, they can be misleading. Competitors can and do place bad reviews on Yelp that falsely weight the star system against their competition.
So why a local directory? Scott told me he is marketing bizyhood with local newspapers. It’s not that his directory isn’t a national directory, it is. But what’s different is that bizyhood is tied to local businesses in a verifiable way. The idea is to work with local businesses that are already proven to be genuine existing businesses. After all, if a business advertises in a local paper it is, almost certainly, a genuine business.
In a subsequent conversation with Scott here’s how he described the way bizyhood interacts with local newspapers. “think of what we’re doing as Wikipedia for communities, with the local publishers as the moderators. It’s still not perfect (nothing ever will be), but it’s certainly more authentic than anything the “top down” (think Yelp) social networks can generate and the people “moderating” are much closer (physically and technically) to the action. While there may be plenty of people who could do a great job of being the local curator, we’ve chosen the publishers because they generally have the communities best interest at heart and are the most genuine community sponsors to date.”
For Scott this is important because bizyhood offers a communication system that is simple to use but more in depth than a mere star system. He is attempting to foster communication between the business and the business’ online audience. Bizyhood does not really offer reviews, it offers interactive feedback between the business and it’s customers.
I think Scott may be on to something. This is not his first start up; he’s already successfully launched two previous companies, so his experience allows him to focus a critical eye on what works and what doesn’t work. From articles I’ve recently read there are strong reasons to believe many large social media networks, like YP, Yelp or Facebook, will have to come to grips with local verification.
An Alarming Truth About Social Media Networks
On April 20th, The New Republic published a story titled, “How Click Farms Have Inflated Social Media Currency.” The story exposes how a young Filipino entrepreneur set up a sweatshop to falsify social media accounts. He is but one of many. These false accounts look as if they are owned by real people, but they aren’t. Using a large collection of false accounts (click farms) the sweatshop owner sells clicks or likes or whatever the currency of the social media network is for a fee. If you want your Facebook account to have 1200 likes, no problem. You can buy them.
The real problem is that at this point in the internet’s development there are many huge unsecured networks. These networks are easy targets for all kinds of falsified information which waters down the utility of the network. There is no way to rid these huge networks of hackers who devise fraudulent ways to profit from them by developing false information.
The networks are just too big to accurately verify every account. That is why local networks offer a viable alternative and are likely to be the future of social media and business networks. Local verifiable accounts are valuable and although false accounts are also a concern for local platforms (Scott says that he encounters this problems at bizyhood) when they are tied to local networks, like local newspapers, they become manageable, allowing consistent, accurate verification.
So what is the future of online networks? I’m willing to bet they will be rebuilt around local verifiable networks that, after they prove bona fide security, are then confederated into larger and larger networks. The old social media networks (like Facebook) will die as they become more and more corrupted due to their insecure structure. Projects like Scott Barnett’s new directory, bizyhood, are the front edge of this new online structure.
How long will this process take? That’s difficult to know. Facebook isn’t going to go away without a fight. It’s just that they can’t clean up the mess they have already made by building too big a network to verify. Sometimes first-to-market isn’t really a long-term advantage. When advertisers catch on to the fact that they are paying to advertise to ever larger numbers of false accounts that will never purchase anything, the ax will fall – especially because there are alternatives like bizyhood.