MyThings: A social network for stuff?
Is your iPod lonely? Maybe it needs its own social network.
MyThings is an interesting site that lets users tell stories about the things they own, connect with other people interested in the same goods, and get real utility: The community can help find the value of antiques and artworks, and the site could be used in the future as a repository for warranty and support info on items.
Webware readers may know that I have an aversion to sites that celebrate consumerism. (Please don't tell my CNET bosses.) We have enough stuff, I believe, and we don't need any more encouragement to define ourselves through it. But even though I originally heard this site pitched as "a MySpace for your consumables," (yuck), there is potential for this site to be very useful.
The MyThings site was started by Martha Danly, who told the audience at this week's Silicon Valley NewTech Meetup that her first stab at the site was to build a service to help track down looted and stolen artworks from World War II. A bit of that sensibility remains in MyThings. There's a "valuation game" on the site that people can play with others, where they attempt to define the value of unique items. Professionals in the arts and antique world can also play and communicate with the owners of the goods. Presumably this could lead to some sort of business relationship, which is conceptually similar to what My-Currency (review) offers for real estate.
Users can also attach stories to their items, which can range from, "I got this iPod for my birthday!" to more interesting and personal tales of how a person discovered and acquired, say, a rug or a piece of art. These stories can make the valuations more accurate.
For consumer goods such as digital electronics, the site makes it easy to add items. It employs the new CNET API to help a user quickly find and enter goods. (Disclosure: I work at CNET, but I didn't know MyThings was using our API it until I heard the pitch.) Items that are connected to a database of goods can, theoretically, get connected to warranty information, product manuals, recall info, and even insurance records. This could be a great utility.
I was relieved to hear that all items entered into MyThings are, by default, marked "private." That's good. I wouldn't want to use the system to keep insurance records only to find that I needed the insurance because a burglar had decided to rob me after seeing my possessions online. Moreover, there's no need to enter a real name or location into the system if you don't want to.
MyThings is easy to navigate and use. Yet at the moment, it feels like two different sites to me, one very useful and one less so. It is useful as a tool for people who want to discuss their rare and unique artwork. The valuation game is kind of a social Antiques Roadshow that could work well for people unsure about the value of what they have.
As a site to add value to our consumer goods, it's not quite there. First of all, people who want to bond over iPods or Nikons can easily find existing, vibrant online communities devoted to those items. Secondly, entering in the stuff you own is kind of a drag, even with the easy entry tools on the site. If MyThings partnered with retailers so that when you purchased an item you had the option to add it to your registry, that might be cool, and it would be a good goal for the company to pursue.