Motivating participation in social networks

It’s not immediately obvious that there is too little participation in social networking sites like FaceBook and MySpace. But providers of such services, and providers of ancillary services, would certainly like to see more participation. And if they can find commercial value in stimulating more activity by willing users, then the economist in me concludes we’re better off: no obvious reason why the marketplace would be failing here.
At the least, social welfare musings aside, providers clearly want to motivate more participation, and more loyalty (that is, convincing folks to keep participating, rather than moving on to new networks). How to do so?
urTurn, an Ann Arbor startup, hopes it can create a market for measuring, monetizing and motivating more social network participation. It’s idea is simple, and may work: if there’s commercial value to providers in having lots of active users, then share some of that value back to the users. By letting the users benefit not only from the social activities, but also from a share of the commercial value of those activities, they should be motivated to participate more.
urTurn is trying to do this by creating a new currency. They award members points for activity, similar to a frequent flier program. The points can then be converted in various ways into cash or swag. For example, urTurn maintains a marketplace where users can buy and sell points for real cash (in trades with other users), much the way that people actively exchange Linden dollars for US dollars in the virtual world, Second Life. In addition, urTurn offers a store for cashing in prizes: for example, for 7500 points you can buy a $25 Visa cash card (other items for sale include iPods and iPhones). Soon urTurn will also be offering auctions in which users can bid their points to obtain items.
Here are some more details, written by my friend and colleague Prof. Yan Chen. Yan has no financial interest in urTurn (she is studying it for some of her research, and is helping to design the auctions for them in exchange for access to data).

With the launch of Google OpenSocial and its embrace by MySpace, etc.., the ability to cross social networks with a common currency is now readily available. The urTurn Rewards Widget monitors and tracks specific activities on the host social networks – Facebook, MySpace, bebo – and gathers these in a central account on the urTurn Marketplace – activities such as making friends, posting photos, and linking your widget to your urTurn Marketplace account.
Users on social networking sites, can download the widget, and start earning points for certain activities, including subscribing to the widget, forwarding the widget to a friend, friend’s subscription to the widget, posting a blog or photo, adding friends to Facebook, and status update on Facebook.
In contrast to frequent flyer programs, urTurn does not benefit directly from the points it rewards the users of host sites. Its revenue might come from several sources: ads revenue, taxing the transactions on the points market, and possibly the host sites.

To add the urTurn application to your Facebook page, go to the URL: