Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What Would Happen if Burning Man Met Facebook?

A few months ago, my friend Sam Lawrence (former CMO of Jive Software) and the lovely April Donato launched a velvet-roped social network called Black Box Republic. I covered it here with a post and podcast with the two founders. While I kind of understood what BBR was about, I am much clearer about the value proposition of this new type of online community.

At the simplest level, think of BBR as a way of bring the exhilirating experiences from a unique event like Burning Man to an social network environment like Facebook. However, unlike Facebook where people come to connect with friends, colleagues and former college friends, BBR is completely private and focuses on non-work things and experiences (thus the Burning Man comparison). Yes, dating/sex do come into play but a lot less than you think. According to their stats (see below), only 10% of the folks that join BBR do so for "lovin'" and "3%" for sex. I'm guessing the numbers on Facebook are much higher in those two categories.

Personally, I think these types of communities are going to become more and more prevalent as people's social and personal lives continue to crash into one another in places like Twitter, MySpace and Facebook. As a side note, Chris Brogan predicted that 2009 would be the year of the "velvet roped social network." While the economy put a serious damper on that (and many other predictions), I think this will be much more of a trend in 2010.

What really intrigues me about the relaunch of BlackBox Republic is that they are creating social network 2.0 type features (learning from sites like eBay, Facebook, Twitter). As an example, instead of making people list favorite movies and books, they put interests into "word clouds" taken from member's conversations and "corkboards." The feature that really impressed me was a vouching system they use which limits the number of connections people can make. It also makes "separation" if after you've connected with someone, you realize that they aren't your cup of tea since you need to re-vouch people every three months.

One other capability that Sam and April included in this "built from scratch" social network is the ability to publish to three different audiences:
  • one's BBR "connections
  • the entire BBR network
  • or to the outside world via tools like Twitter and Facebook
Events also work in a similar fashion where folks from both within and outside of BBR can be invited.

With all that said, is BlackBox Republic for everyone? No, just like a Burning Man experience or a Rage Against the Machine concert isn't for everyone. But it's a cool concept and it's much different than what I originally thought (the "sex positive" thing clouded my judgement a little). I look forward to tracking their progress.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the insight. I am not a big fan of the velvet rope treatment in life. Im all for security and for connecting with people I can trust, but I like to break away from the clique. The velvet rope being applied to a social network may dampen that.

    While this network turned out to not match me the way I hoped it would, Im wishing April and the rest of the team luck. I know disposable income is quite low these days but hopefully they can break through this recession anyway. :)