Friday, May 11, 2007

Rumors as a Content Play: Kawasaki's Truemors Tries to Create Online Gold out of Whispers

An old Wall Street trueism goes "Buy on the rumor, sell on the fact." There is lots of carefully culled research and data that goes into executing deals but a lot of business still hinges on front-line ears to the ground sifting through possibly true events. No surprise, then, that a new online play is focusing on the entertainment of culling out rumors. TechCrunch reports on Truemors, Valley startup maven Guy Kawasaki's new play that allows people to phone in or post rumors anonymously and to have site visitors to Truemors rate the rumor, spread it, tag it, link to it or comment on it. While Truemors has some posts that are tagged as business, most of the content in this still-early-days play focus on the usual media figures and fixations - celebs, tech toys and other titillating buzz. There is one post on the rumors of Microsoft acquiring Yahoo that were circulating last week, but with a relatively small community there is not real discussion or details that surfaced.

It's an interesting play, and one that's likely to gain a certain amount of momentum, but at the end of the day there's a distinct odor on the methodology that's not likely to give this much long-term momentum. Most worrisome is the voting system combined with anonymity: it's all too easy for someone to post a red herring and to have malicious cronies pump up the votes to give a rumor unwarranted legs. The fun of debunking rumors will attract some people, but it's a negative premise that is not likely to build market share against services like Yahoo! Answers that help people to develop authority in a more trusted community environment. A better play would be to use mining technologies to go through weblogs, message boards and other community content sources to see what's buzzing strongest before it's confirmed by mainstream media sources and to use these seeds to move a ratings process. At least then one would have the ability to evaluate the strength of a contributor's following amongst their peers in a community before moving it on to a rumor board.

Kawasaki finds himself oftentimes in the middle of highly buzzy trends so expect that there will be more services of this kind this year trying to sift out truth from "truthiness" - and that Truemors will become a tool more likely to feed the truthiness side of the equation. With so much raw information hitting weblogs and social networking services before it's packaged via traditional journalism the need to make sense of this raw input more efficiently is certainly pressing, but peers who come to trust both one another and the sources of rumors are likely to form the foundation of what will motivate people to move from being entertained by rumors to taking action.
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