Her comes Tribe.net

Her comes Tribe.net.

The Tribe.net has entered into a v 1.1 beta stage, where it's working out the kinks and getting it's act together.  Here's Ross Mayfield's assesment.  One cool thing is that Tribe.net is NOT closed.  Anyone can go to it – browse around in “lurk” mood and join – if they wish.

Of course they won't have any friends.  But they can join a Tribe or post a Listing and make friends.  Or they can always ping me – I'll make um a friend of mine.  🙂

The Network is the Market.

Tribe.net is a Craig's List meets Friendster style Social Networking Service that is just coming out of beta. What's different is the explicit transactional nature of the network, emphasis on tribal organization tools and how it relies on social capital to underpin transactions

In the interest of full disclosure, Tribe.net founder and CEO Mark Pincus is an investor in my company, Socialtext. That means I have had the benefit of talking with Mark about what he is building, and its an excuse for me to explore some Social Networking themes.

Within the Social Networking models paradigm, Tribe.net connections are declarative, making it an Explicit Social Network. Declarative like Ryze or Friendster where connections are browsable. Connections between people are confirmed ties, like Friendster, and you can only see the network that you are four-degrees of separation within. Ryze, it should be noted, took some steps recently to display both confirmed and unconfirmed ties.

But the purpose of Tribe.net is less connections, but the information flow they enable: tribal constructs and messages (classified ads). Information flow is to facilitate trade.

The Network is the Market

Social Networks (unlike Political or Creative Networks) are fundamentally transactional. We each have a group of people, no larger that 150, that we passively track and trade with. We have relationships of a kind with each of them and are aware of their relationships with each other. What we are monitoring is social capital. When someone wrongs another, if you have both people in your Social Network, you become aware of it and adjust your tacit social credit ratings.

Unless you are a little weird, you don't keep explicit ratings of your friends. You make a note to self, sometimes without full cognition that you are, move on and let it effect how you trust others in the future. Trust and reputation is fundamentally social credit.

Explicit ratings have a place, in larger networks/markets where the vast majority of transactions are with people you have at best a representational relationship with. Commerce with strangers is really scary, because they can dupe you without consequence. We all know how eBay scaled low-entry commerce through explicit ratings with social credit rather than financial credit. Allowing people to bank their actions, not just their assets. But there is value not just in scaled and scale-free networks.

This weekend we had an old-fashioned multi-family garage sale. First dibs were given to the other families to take what they wanted without having to pay. There were other garage sales on our block, kids ran from sale to sale having fun and a couple swaps occurred. Now I live in a strange neighborhood, mostly with overworked VC parents, but garage sales are the one time where people really hang out with their neighbors. The point is not only do we prefer to trade with people we know. Trade can be an excuse for conversation. The positive externality is each transaction can form the basis for more than transactions, but basic social capital that underpins relationships.

Richard Wilhelm recently made an argument for increased use of social capital instead of financial credit for Internet commerce:

…Mutual trust, when it exists, is a far better and more efficient alternative; it substantially lowers transaction costs, and it can offer a big competitive advantage. One World Bank study, using a regression analysis covering the 1980s, suggests that a 10 percent difference in the degree of generic trust among the citizens of a nation is reflected in a 0.8 percent variance in that country’s rate of economic growth. With average annual growth worldwide in the range of 1 to 3 percent during the same period, it is easy to see the payback in building trust…

We must bring to cyberspace “social capital,” the notion popularized by the political philosophers James Coleman and Francis Fukuyama. Social capital represents the matrix of behavioral norms and reciprocal expectations that allow any social network to function. These informal constraints provide the essential context within which societies can establish formal institutions, procedures, and rules of law. The core of social capital’s process is self-restraint, a willingness to forgo potential advantage…

[Source: Strategy+Business (reg. required)]

Value of the Small

Tribe.net is built upon the Value of the Small — the smaller the network the stronger the ties and the more valuable the information flow. The weakness of the Value of the Small is if the network's design allows new participants and information flow.

Tribe.net allows you to post or search for classified ads within varying degrees of distance — both relational (degrees of separation) and locational (geography). It therefore attempts to capture the Value of the Small by affording users the ability to constrain network size under search, but broaden it to weaker ties as needed.

Social credit is not made explicit through an eBay-style reputation system. Instead, it relies on conversations and connections for restraint. The challenge for all markets, however, is liquidity — how the market scales. Unlike a Private Network like LinkedIn, where information flow is squarely constrained by risking social capital at every node in an information flow, Tribe.net relies upon explicitness. Relationships are declared, so if someone defaults on a transaction and there is enough communication to reveal the default, the defaulting party may risk their relationships.

Tribe.net encourages conversation by having almost no constraints in messaging modes. You can post listings (classified ads) for free, can send direct messages and post to message boards. If the cost to communicate is near zero, feedback loops proliferate to support social credit.

Benefits of Organization

If there is one thing people naturally reward others for in our complicated world, its organization. When someone brings people together its a valuable form of emergent leadership. When someone aggregates things together in a usable form, it becomes a resource. In both cases we reward leaders, designers and bricolageurs with social credit and sometimes even pay them.

Ryze's best feature, IMHO, was the creation of what they used to call tribes and now call networks. They allow people to construct networks for a multitude of purposes. I formed the Blog-Network to allow bloggers to find each other within Ryze, which has grown to 550 members.

Similarly, weblogs allow people to construct their own Conversational Networks. A blogroll constitutes explicit connections. Its easy to set up a blog with many authors and enable comments for open contribution. The emergent order between blogs form something comparable to a social networking service.

Tribe.net, as the name implies, has a dedicated focus on empowering people to create their own communities. Members are explicitly listed, conversation occurs through a message board, member listings are aggregated and events are scheduled. Tribe organizers are afforded convenient mechanisms for promoting their Tribe within the larger network. The cost of group forming is plummeting to zero.

Its too early to say if Tribe.net will succeed. My sense is it largely depends upon the cultures Tribe leaders foster, how the network scales and if norms of reciprocity beget social capital. Initially, social capital within the network is weak and the market for listings will be illiquid. Unlike LinkedIn, more valuable transactions will not occur from day one. Since it doesn't place constraints on connections or information flow it could grow rapidly.

It can be said that this Social Networking Service serves a special niche between eBay and Craig's List, between Newspaper Classifieds and Garage Sales, between Friendster and LinkedIn — where the market is the conversation.

[Corante: Social Software]

Ross groks it.  [Marc's Voice]

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