Switzerland's Amazee on Wednesday is launching its site for building social projects. It's a solid effort. The collaboration tools look good, and I like how it puts the focus on the project, unlike most other social nets that focus on the person. However, in its current form, Amazee is more impressive in theory than practice. I don't want to say the project suffers from hubris, but I do believe it will need to climb down from its ivory tower to succeed.
Within the site, you can set up a project, such as raising money for a cause, organizing a rally, or building an ark to save the planet's animals--whatever. Amazee, unlike most social networks, is built around workflow modules, like a discussion forum, a file repository, a calendar, and other functions. The company's team plans to layer in Basecamp-like tools for deeper task tracking.
Amazee CEO Gregory Gerhardt told me the goal for the site is to drive collective action. The tools the service offers are in support of that. But while Amazee has got the tools part of the equation well in hand, the collective part is lacking.
Part of this is due to the pure theory that Gerhardt is basing Amazee on. His was the only pitch in recent years that I've seen where Maslow's hierarchy of needs played a key part. Gerhardt puts Amazee at the "Esteem" level: The service is about achievement and respect. He puts Facebook and social networks a slot down, at "Love/Belonging."
The problem is, you have to solve your Love/Belonging issues before you can address Esteem, and Amazee is so theoretically pure that it cuts itself off from the real and messy world where the mass of users congregate.
Furthermore, Amazee is being built as a destination site. People who want to launch a cause on their own site can point users to the cause's page on Amazee, but they can't get their own branded version, nor (yet) hook the service in to whatever network of users they already have.
The lack of a white-label version of Amazee is its greatest business fault and the service's biggest opportunity. Facebook users already have the popular Causes app where they can talk about action and raise funds (although without Amazee's workflow tools), but you can't co-brand or remarket Causes for your site, and that, to me, represents an opportunity. (Amazee plans to make money by offering "private" pages, but as of yet those pages cannot be branded.)
Amazee looks like a good service with the technical framework for delivering on its promise. And while it has the social dynamic worked out within its own universe, it doesn't have the hooks it needs into the rest of the world. As I was recently reminded when I tried Yammer here at CNET (it's deathly silent in our little room), building a social service is only one part programming. The other 99 parts are social engineering.