I’ve never been to Chile, but what I’d do right now to drop into Santiago and ask a few people there what they think of Empire Avenue.
Not the street — the veritable border of St. John’s, not all that long ago — but rather the social media network and virtual stock market named after the thoroughfare.
In a little more than a month, the site has really taken off, with some surprisingly strong takeup in Chile, of all places, and in France. (Why there? Well, one friend told a friend, who told a blog, who told a television network … you get the picture.)
Although it launched publicly in late July, Empire Avenue was developed over the last year by a group dominated by some St. John’s expatriates who are living and/or working in Montreal and Edmonton.
The idea of the site is to put a value on your presence in social media — or rather, let other users determine that value and whether it’s rising or falling. You earn “income,” as it were, based on your use of Facebook, Twitter or Flickr. (Tell that to your worried loved ones as they try to pry you from your phone or PC.)
You also earn “dividends” based on your investments in others — at least the ones who are productive, or who have something to say.
That’s the outline, anyway. But what’s the virtual Empire Avenue like, for real?
Since it opened its gates to the public, Empire Avenue has picked up quite the following with thousands of members, scattered hither and yon, but — in the best sense of social media — all connected to at least someone else.
I enlisted almost two weeks ago. My initial reaction was, I gather, fairly typical. I was confused about how all of this would work, and descriptions given to me didn’t provide a good sense of what happens. Nonetheless, I took some of my virtual cash — the currency is called “eaves” — and spread it around. I got a giggle out seeing total strangers (and some current contacts) invest in my stock.
But I have to confess I had a nagging thought. Does the world really need yet another social network? If someone is already pressed for time, can they realistically be expected to invest time, if not necessarily actual cash, into something like this?
The good news for Empire Avenue’s proponents is that it’s catchy. It’s not like other social media networks, although it has that flavour because it’s easy to find people from different places and with similar places. I doubt, though, that people will flock there to hang out.
Rather, it reminds me of another virtual stock market, Hollywood Stock Exchange, which has been letting movie buffs pick winners and losers for more than a dozen years. With that kind of site, your visits are brief and to the point … and hopefully, a bit of fun to be snatched during idle moments.
The guys behind Empire Avenue plan to make a buck off this. You’ll notice that you can spend some dollars to pick up credits, but that’s not the main business model. Instead, they’re hoping to commercialize the trading activity once it reaches enough volume, with content creators (e.g., you) getting a slice of the income.
Personally, I have absolutely no expectations of getting a single coin from my Empire Avenue activity.
For me, the gains come from the pleasure of playing the game, a few minutes here and there, and figuring out how it works. So far, it’s been a bit of a novelty. It’ll be a real credit to Empire Avenue if they can keep me — not to mention the thousands of players who have quickly signed up —engaged in the months to come.
Elsewhere this week
Arcade Fire has made a web project that is really incredible. It’s not just a video; it’s an experience. You’re strongly advised (i.e., told) to use a Chrome browser. Then … well, you’ll see for yourself. It’s a remarkable glimpse into the future of online media, with its use of Flash-replacing HTML5. Even if you don’t care about the technology, you’ll be amazed at what you see.
John Gushue is an online editor with CBC News in St. John’s.
Twitter: @johngushue. Blog: johngushue.typepad.com