I didn’t really want to write this post, but felt an obligation to play devil’s advocate. (Clarification – playing devil’s advocate isn’t necessarily taking the dissenting view merely for dissension’s sake – I’m troubled that no-one else is seeing the other side of this release and I feel obliged to correct that….) Sam Lawrence, ex-marketing honcho at Jive software and something of a legend amongst the marketing uber-classes has just launched a new social network-y kind of a deal called Blackbox Republic.
Apparently Blackbox Republic is “focused on reinventing the online relationship market” or whatever that means. It’s a $25 per month social network for “sex positive” individuals or people who are “open enough about sexuality that it’s not an issue.” All the big names have covered this, and my cynical side says that’s due to the fact that in his former life Lawrence dealt with the commentators on a regular basis. Colleague Dennis Howlett was positive about the offering rationalizing that;
As people, we gravitate towards others with whom we have affinity on a particular topic or issue. Most of us have several passions in our lives that go beyond a transaction. Ask trainspotters, hang glider aficionados or Man Utd fans. Each shares a deep and lasting passion that connects one with another. In our cloistered world that might translate into folk who are deeply into tax planning or systems integration. You can fine slice these again and again. But…where can you find those places where you go beyond the transaction? They don’t exist.
To which I’d suggest that any one of a host of user-customizable social networks (Ning anyone?) suffice in this way – in the past I’ve been involved in communities of interest built around Ning – while admittedly they weren’t paid sites they had similar attributes of being closed, community rated and controlled and able to be tailored to the specific requirements of a particular interest group – the very requirements that Dennis raises above.
In their press release, Lawrence and co-founder April Donato say that;
The sex-positive creative culture is made up of tens of millions of people who don’t have issues with their own sexuality or that of others. They gather at mega events like Burning Man, Love Parade, Electric Picnic and Afrika Burns, as well as thousands of smaller regional and local meet-ups. Blackbox Republic will be a members-only experience that will unite the sex-positive community and give them a personal, private and secure way to connect online and in person
Great, but I’m not seeing much that I haven’t seen from other customizable group spaces. true they’re wanting to bring some elements that aren’t obvious in the mainstream social media offerings today – gift-giving and transactions stuff for example – but again that’s not a mental leap for those already in the space.
Call me a prude, but I can’t help but concur with Dennis’ initial thought (which he goes on to say is completely misguided) that “…Sam’s finally gone over the edge and is developing a sophisticated porn site dressed up to look cool” – I realize and accept that people are much more open and comfortable with their sexuality – but it seems to me a very fine line between this and the more *overt* adult sites.
Lovely guy, and non-sensationalist enterprise blogger Oliver Marks points out that;
Anyone actually using collaborative software in business knows how vital groups are – groupings of users around specific interests and projects hidden from other users by permission model. I see this thinking applied here on a personal level, applicable to your life and respecting your social needs.
This more granular approach enables a deeper integration with your intensely personal life, safe in the knowledge that it won’t be exposed to the world without your explicit permission (unlike those pictures of you in a fountain wearing a Tutu on Facebook you though only two friends could see).
Sure Oliver – but all of this is pretty much doable with one of the incumbents – with the added benefit that it doesn’t require yet another profile to create, maintain and access (although given the subject matter I’ll admit that alter-egos may very well be a desired aspect of this locale).
I can’t help but think that what we’re seeing here is another Cuil – remember the “Google-killer” launched with much fanfare a year or so ago – it seems all the marketing hype, driven through big name funders and backers, got them nowhere once the glam was polished off and the actual offering was analyzed – Sam’s a lovely guy and all – but I’d rather we all performed the double-blind test on this offering, looking at it detached from the profile of its founders.
As I said to the Twitterverse this afternoon, “Would anyone (especially peeps like @jeffnolan and @rww) be even mentioning Blackbox Republic if Sam Lawrence wasn’t involved? I think not” – to his credit Marshall Kirkpatrick from ReadWriteWeb replied saying that; “Niche social network raises $1m, charges $25/mo & hits privacy hard? Yes I’d cover that!” – an argument that despite my respect for both Marshall and ReadWriteWeb I’m not really buying seeing as how many well funded start-ups aren’t being covered by the mainstream blogs – need an example? How about youcalc that, despite nearly $4 million in funding, is yet to be covered in depth anywhere than on CloudAve.
Anyway – there’s a bunch of well respected commentators who seems to disagree with my perspective, have a look at what Jeff, Dennis (and part 2 from him), Marshall and Oliver say and judge for yourself. It’ll be interesting to watch this one going forward…