I’ve been sick for a few days so this is a bit late in coming, but David Beisel mentioned StyleFeeder in a discussion about the meaning of “badges” last week. Let’s do a vocabulary lesson before proceeding: a badge is a visual decoration for your blog or website. A badge does more than “just sit there” like a static image. It might stream in news headlines, feeds, photos or music. Badges are functional syndication and signaling mechanisms that people use to share data and information. Useful? Sure. Cool? Yes. A badge business model? I don’t see it.
The StyleFeeder badge allows you to put your stylefeeder data on your website. If you are reading this blog in a browser, you’ll see my own stylefeeder badge over on the left side of the screen. It contains stuff that I see online that I like or might buy, such as clothes, shoes, electronics, funny greeting cards, office chairs, bags, and so on. Why do I expose all of this information to you? It gives you a good idea of what’s going on in my life. If you read my blog, maybe you want to know a bit more about what I’m doing all day long or what I am interested in lately. I don’t expect that there are thousands of people in the world who care, but there are a few (Hi Mum!) so the information’s there for you to peruse or ignore. Hey, maybe you will even see something interesting (or a good present for me)!
Our experience and design principles with the StyleFeeder badge are worth recounting. The goal was to give our users something useful and fun. Interactive badges that magically stream in content that you made on another website are cool and help to visually enhance your site. They provide a way for you to easily expose information on an incremental basis to your audience. Because it’s easy to add stuff to your stylefeed, you can do it while you are shopping or browsing around. It’s non-interruptive. You don’t have to make a big effort to write a long posting (like this one…) and can expose information in little discrete chunks.
As a marketer, wondering about the impact of badges is a smart thing to do. Because the impact could be fairly substantial, especially when you are talking about “expressing yourself through products,” as David noted in his post. One function of a brand is to act as a filter. A brand helps me filter by style, price, and all the other cultural connotations that come along with branded products. Now, if the Long Tail ideas are true, it means that we all have fairly eclectic tastes, which means that either (a) a single brand would need to make lots of different things for different tastes (likely resulting in a mixed-up brand message) or (b) that we’re going to buy things from many more brands in the future that we might do currently. We typically apply the notion of a ‘brand’ to a group of products or services and not directly to a person. But if it’s the person doing the grouping – and not the company that owns the brand – then what does it mean, indeed? I wish I had a good answer for you, but what I see is control shifting towards the customers. This is not a threat as long as you’re going to view it as an opportunity to get to know the people who buy your products.
(Btw, every time you see Tim Post‘s name mentioned, be alert: he’s about to change the way you think about something. I’ve had two or three conversations with him and he’s caused me to reconsider stuff I’m doing each time.)