I was originally going to stop after 20 wacky business ideas, but I think some people enjoy them (and they’re easy posts to write), so I’ll keep going with them. Sorry if you’re sick of the whole category of posts (I’ll forgive our regular readers if they skip THESE POSTS – you MUST read everything else I write however).
Faceless (and potentially anonymous) communication has been an intriguing element of electronic interactions. When we were teenage punks, a friend and I got on his brother’s CB radio and started moaning and groaning (and slapping our necks ala Christian Slater in “Pump up the Volume”) to disrupt the conversations. I was a System Operator on a BBS, and the same troll behaviour would happen in the message forums, people would say antagonistic things (usually anonymously) then delight in watching the chaos that emerged. It has long been known that people say things over the Internet that they would never dream of saying face-to-face.
You get the evolution of communities where they start out being really interesting, engaging forums where like-minded individuals meet up to chat, and if they last any length of time and grow, eventually they attract unpleasant users who drive out the old guard and destroy the place. I talked about one solution to this in Wacky Business Idea #4, but this is another approach.
Basically users would join a website devoted to chatting (think Usenet, Yahoo Groups or any of the topical message forums such as Canadian Money Forums). There wouldn’t be any specific topic, just people who want to chat in a group by leaving messages to one another.
When a new user joins, they would be in some general intro chat areas, and could start a new topic, or participate in existing topics. Every user could give a thumbs up or a thumbs down (think StumbleUpon) to other users, or to a specific comment. The system would do collaborative filtering to match up users who tend to like interacting with each other (or like the same messages / topics). These users would then be put into a group with one another and could carry on their discussions privately. This would be constantly recalculated, so if a user suddenly turned into a jerk (or a user was accidentally added to an inappropriate group), the flurry of thumbs down from other users would quickly eject them.
If good groups kept growing, at a certain point the system would view it as too many people to carry on discussions (or too many conversations occurring for members to follow), and break it into two groups (trying to match users with the sub-group that they’d be best suited for). Conversely, if a group got too small or conversation died out, the system would merge it with another “quiet” group or add some new users who might be a match.
Groups could evolve to be focused on personal finance, technology, or movies (or just be general discussion that drifts through topics of interest to participants).
One option COULD be that people in groups could “invite” their friends to their private groups, however if the person quickly got “thumbed down” by the other participants, they’d be ejected from the group (and the system would do its best to introduce them to a new group of people they might be better suited to).
Hopefully the “self policing” nature would avoid the need to have moderators or heavy-handed controls in place, while still allowing user the feeling of being in control of who they interact with (and groups being able to protect themselves from users whose goal is to disrupt the community).