Zebo, where you are what you buy

Zebo, officially launching today, represents one of the things I dislike most about our culture: It attempts to define people by what they own. The site is a social network aimed at young people, with the differentiating factor that filling in lists titled "What I own" and "What I want" is the central activity. Users enter in the stuff they have, and can also rate their items.

There is some benefit to focusing on things you own: Users can claim themselves to be experts in particular category areas (like digital cameras, or shoes), and other users can seek them out and ask their advice. If they like the advice, they can appoint them as their personal guru.

Unfortunately, the site doesn't do a good job of collecting opinions on products, aside from cute icons like "love it" or "trendy." There are many consumer review sites, and Zebo clearly doesn't compete with them, but it'd be more useful if it did. And there's no product database underlying the system. If you tell Zebo that you own an MP3 player, it won't ask you what kind.

There's nothing terribly wrong with a social network that makes it easy for people to connect over shoes, iPods, and cars. If that's how Zebo's users identify themselves, fine. It seems shallow to me, but not every site can be Masterpiece Theatre. And on the bright side, many users do attempt to break out of the materialist mold, even on Zebo. A lot of users report that they "own" friends. Likewise, many users list job aspirations in their "What I want" sections. Maybe there's hope for our youth after all.