RealTime IT News

Can It Pay to Be Social?

Is the era free social networking coming to an end? Hardly, but upstart Spiffbox has a novel idea for bringing monetary reward to the growing online social chatter.

The new social network site, launching today, charges members to send messages and pays you to receive them. For example, it costs 15 points (think pennies) to send a message and you get paid 10 points to receive it. You get points for setting up a profile, points for receiving photos, getting new users to sign up, and so on.

Accumulate 2,000 points and you may cash them in for $20 or use the points on the site. Spiffbox makes money by taking a small percentage of each transaction. You can also use a credit card to buy points. Today's launch is the first public beta of the service. Spiffbox is free to join, though users must be 18 years or older.

"At the end of day, we're a real redemption, not a virtual cake you send to your friend," Chris Munnelly, CEO and founder of SpiffBox, told InternetNews.com. Many social networks, including Facebook, and online gaming sites, let users buy so-called virtual goods.

Munnelly thinks the financial incentive will spur users to prioritize and respond more quickly and effectively to messages than they do now on other social networks.

The rollout comes at a time of booming interesting in social networks, whose providers are working feverishly to develop and rollout new or even their first revenue models. Twitter recently announced it won't roll out ads until next year, but has announced it's experimenting with services that help users manage their tweets and accounts.

Spiffbox includes connections to Facebook and Twitter so you can manage those communications from within the site. "My goal is to build this out as a destination site, but we also want to partner with other sites," said Munnelly. For example, other sites will have the option of including a "Spiffbox" on their home page.

Pay to play

Munnelly said a private beta test included a lot of college students who used it to meet people and promote services. For now, the point charge for sending a message and the reward for responding are fixed. But Spiffbox plans to eventually let users set their own price or points fee. So for example, an expert might charge 100 points to get a response.

It's not clear what, if any, additional controls might be put in place to make sure expectations are met, but Spiffbox does already include a ratings systems similar to what eBay offers as a way to rate sellers. Spiffbox members can be rated on three criteria: Looks, Personality and Responsiveness.

"There are no free riders on this network," said Munnelly. "We live in a capitalist world. If you want a favor, there's a transaction cost."

Munnelly said Spiffbox incorporates ideas he developed after working at several high tech ventures. He was previously a director at Avaya, where he led strategy and M&A for the company's Unified Messaging division. He joined Avaya via its acquisition of Traverse Networks, a mobile application company backed by Cisco that he co-founded. He was also vice president of business development at eVoice, a consumer Internet telephony company that became AOL by Phone.