There's a lot of reflection now about the lack of civil discourse in America. I hit my low point last week, thanks to a site you probably haven't heard of called One True Fan.
Here's how it happened:
Liza Sperling, a friend of mine from the social media tech community, is a fellow user of One True Fan. That means we've both installed a browser extension that allows us to constantly check into any website we visit. Yes, the whole check-in thing has extended to the web. You can set it as opt-in or opt-out, depending on how much you want to share.
If I can attempt to read your mind right now, it's probably thinking something along the lines of, "Why would anyone ever want to do that?" It's may be similar to a thought you had when you read about Stickybits, Barcode Hero, Foodspotting, Checkpoints, and a number of the other wonderfully "weird" social activities that people can do.
For me at least, there's a lot of "weird" technology out there, and I use "weird" in quotes as a way of noting it's not just the typical definition, like David Lynch-movie weird or Kanye-tweet weird or Three Wolf Moon-shirt weird. This kind of "weird" denotes something that's not meant to be mainstream yet, as we don't know how people will use it. Sometimes, as in Twitter's case, something "weird" becomes a phenomenon. More often, it quietly disappears.
I don't know which way One True Fan will go, but it's fun to try it out, especially while it's new. It includes some elements I really don't understand, like patches, which I guess are sort of like badges, but if anyone kidnapped me, brandished a gun, and said, "What's the difference between a Second Base patch and Level 2 patch on OneTrueFan.com?" I would not make it out alive.
What I do understand is the competitive element. The more pages you click on a site, the more points you earn. If you earn 20 points (not that hard) in fourteen days, you're a fan. If you earn more points than anyone else, you're the One True Fan. Of all the sites where I'm the One True Fan (43 right now, but it's a moving target), the one my boss would likely least approve of is - get your mind out of the gutter now - Gmail. My biggest point tally is on Geni.com, a genealogical site, along with its rivals Ancestry.com and MyHeritage, thanks to a few nights this past weekend where I stayed up until 3am working on my family tree. I'll enjoy the fame while it lasts.
I first appreciated the competitive nature of One True Fan when I received an alert that Chris Pirillo stole my True Fan title from Orbitz. A more sane person might think, "I'm not planning a trip right now. It's okay that someone else is the fan of that site." A slightly less sane person might get mildly annoyed and brush it off. Someone who's probably not getting enough riboflavin in his diet would think, "Damn you, Chris Pirillo. I don't care how many clicks it takes, but I'm stopping whatever I'm doing and going back to Orbitz.com until I get the One True Fan title, and then I'll spend a little extra time there to make it harder for you to win it back." In case you're wondering, I fell into camp number three. The same obsessiveness that has led me to add nearly 750 profiles to my family tree on Geni sometimes manifests itself in less productive ways.
That brings me back to Liza Sperling, who may take two steps back from me when I run into her at South by Southwest in March. The rivalry with her started with something so innocuous - my visit to Motorola's site to find an image of its new tablet for a slideshow I was creating about the Consumer Electronics Show. I found my image and was done. Simple enough, right?
The problem was that in the process, I earned the One True Fan title. Hours later, Liza needed technical support from Motorola and stole the title from me. This gnawed at me. I knew Liza. It became personal. So of course I spent a while clicking around motorola.com. We took the battle public, bragging about the seesawing lead on Twitter, until my sense of decorum faded. After that, Liza earned back the title, and I made peace with her keeping it, except that I happened to become the One True Fan again while working on this column. She has yet to try to win it back.
The way I used One True Fan may only serve to lessen publisher and marketer in the site. I'm admitting to visiting sites over and over even if I'm no longer in the market for their offerings.
Others, however, might actually find the competition leading to useful reminders to return to a site they actually want to revisit. It's an added reminder to return. And who knows, maybe even people like me who have no reason to return will wind up discovering something appealing.
Or maybe it's just too "weird" for it to go much further. I'm willing to cede that this is not the future of social media. But for a browser extension that makes little sense and has only limited appeal right now, I'm having a ton of fun while it lasts.