PeerIndex, which gives users scores based on their social networking prowess, plans to launch "a new platform with a load of perks" in the next couple of weeks", according to founder and chief executive Azeem Azhar. This will include a new people-ranking algorithm and a new website design. Also, the radial spider-graph that shows users' interests will be replaced by a donut.
The UK-based startup has recently raised $3m ($1.91m) in venture capital and hired Garth Holsinger, a former vice president of sales and business development at Klout, PeerIndex's main rival, to expand its business to the next level.
PeerIndex works with brands to offer perks to users with high scores based on their use of social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and their personal blogs. Perks include things like free gifts, product loans, and invitations to events. One of the most interesting perks was a limited edition 3D hologram from Ford.
Azhar says the data from our social networking activity "is a representation of the things we care about, and our social capital. Our social capital is currently lying there, untouched". The idea behind PeerIndex is to exploit that social capital by making it visible to companies that want to reach "digital influencers". "I don't mind brands approaching me for the things I care about," he says.
Influence is a long tail system where a few people wield enormous influence -- Lady Gaga, Alexa Chung etc -- while billions of others only influence their friends. Azhar says PeerIndex is identifying people with influence in the long tail and "exposing it to the market. We call it the 'magic middle'. Social media means you can do it at a much lower level than you could before".
Azhar says PeerIndex has been growing "mostly by word of mouth, unfortunately" but "the draw of the perk is quite powerful". So far, PeerIndex has offered perks in six European countries and "one or two in America". The plan is to do more.
PeerIndex also makes data available via an API (applications programming interface). This enables, for example, a Twitter client to display PeerIndex scores, with the idea that users are likely to pay more attention to someone with a high score.
One problem with PeerIndex is that it's attractive to people with high scores but there's not much in it for people with low scores. Even if you think PeerIndex, Klout, Kred and similar ratings are not reliable indications of social credit, why would you want to advertise the fact that you score 20 rather than 60?
Azhar says the average user who signs up has a PI score of "about 40" whereas the average for the population is 19. In other words, more influential people are more likely to join.
PeerIndex aims to surface particular areas of expertise among less influential people. For example, I should have more influence than Lady Gaga on someone who wants to buy a new PC or smartphone. But I'm not sure it works like that. If Lady Gaga is seen using a particular device, I'd expect it to sell a few extra thousands if not millions, whereas my well researched and tested recommendation would have almost no influence at all.