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Duleepa Wijayawardhana, Empire Avenue Social Media Exchange : Social Networks on Sale

30th Mar 2011
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At Empire Avenue everyone is for sale. Sell yourself in our virtual social stock market, have fun, become a virtual millionaire and a better social networker. The founders are Michael Mannion, Niall Brown and the CEO, Duleepa Wijayawardhana. Duleepa talks to YourStory about his social media venture.

Tell us more about the team behind Empire Avenue.


The three founders of Empire Avenue come from varied backgrounds and varied cultures. In fact, it is that difference that has helped create such a unique product. I, myself, am an immigrant to Canada from Sri Lanka and met Mike and Niall in Newfoundland during university. My personal background is in working for computer game developer BioWare (Baldur's Gate, Mass Effect,Dragon Age etc.) and working for open source database developer MySQL, later bought by Sun Microsystems and then Oracle. Niall and Mike are both of Irish descent in Canada, with Niall with his Arts background and Mike having a Post-Doctorate from Harvard Chemistry.


The co-founders (Niall Brown, Michael Mannion and I) met initially in university in St. John's, Newfoundland on the extreme east coast of Canada after I had moved there from Hong Kong. 15 years later we all met up again while living in Montreal, and this is when we came up with the idea and decided to start Empire Avenue. For me personally, the decision was quite simple. I had joined MySQL only to have Sun Microsystems acquire that company, and then finally Oracle acquired Sun. I wanted to take a year off and do something different, and Empire Avenue presented a unique challenge!




What do you mean by "The Social Media Exchange" ?


The Social Media Exchange refers to three things. We believe that everything you do online creates value, that value can translate to a tradeable commodity, which we have done by creating a virtual stock market where you are the commodity! People get to buy into you.We value your online presence and give you a share price and then adjust it daily, but you can drive your value up even higher by getting people to buy your shares. Your shareholders benefit by earning virtual currency for the actions you do online. The more you do on Twitter or Facebook, the more you drive engagement and interaction, comments and -- really, just be social -- the higher your value, the more you earn, and the more your shareholders will benefit from you.


The Exchange also refers to the creation of relationships between people through this action of buying and selling.Unlike Facebook and Twitter, our relationships are based on whether you value someone enough to spend some of your virtual currency on purchasing them. Good investments will always pay well! It really is a neat way to meet new valuable people online!


Features and how do you envision this to be used by different groups?


Over the next little while we'll be launching into Facebook Platform as Empire Avenue on Facebook. It's targeted specifically for the Facebook demographic, though current users of our main site can switch between the two seamlessly. Those who wish to use Empire Avenue for truly understanding social media will have "statisticians" and "bankers" that will help them understand why their scores are increasing or decreasing in addition to the engaging game aspect.


For professionals in the PR, marketing or social media fields, in particular, this information is really helpful for gauging the effectiveness of social efforts.


We also have Empire Avenue Communities and Indexes. The Communities allow you to discuss in private or openly amongst a set of users, while Indexes are about you rising up the ranks in a particular field of interest. You could, for example, become the CEO of the "World Domination" Index (I'm on Vice President currently).


The need/ idea behind this?


The idea came from a philosophical discussion of what "value" is on the Internet and, specifically, on social media such as Facebook or Twitter. We decided that pure algorithmic analysis wasn't enough, and therefore we set out to create a crowd-sourced market. In creating Empire Avenue and watching its growth, it's really about using the Market to find and connect with interesting people, something that Twitter or Facebook really don't really lend themselves to towards.


Business model/Pricing


Since we are a virtual online game, we have gone the route of allowing sales of virtual currency and virtual goods as a business model. Further models will be rolled out as we gain scale and traction!


Key learnings so far ?


A startup is many things, and simple is not one of them. Everye day is a new and exciting challenge. We're also not going after a small niche; we want to become a household name in the social media/social game space. As challenges go, that's pretty big! Understanding our key audience and their needs has been a large part of the challenge, as well as getting the product to be simple, interesting and yet fun for both the standalone site and the new Empire Avenue on Facebook.


Why did you want to work in the social media space ?


Social media is the next evolution of the web as we know it. Social media is essentially user-created content, mobile and communication all wrapped up into one. It's one of the most exciting places to be right now. The innovation happening now in this space will be felt throughout the world in the years to come. Even in the last few months the revolutions around the world small and large scale have some roots in social media organization and communication.

Visit Empire Avenue here : http://empireavenue.com/

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