The latest contender in social networking emerged from stealth mode this week, offering yet another forum to share and compare opinions in a social stream of your acquaintances and the web at large.
Hush-hush development of the Swipp Social Intelligence Network has been going on for two years, but its appearance this week may have been hastened by Facebook's announcement of Graph Search, which like Swipp gathers and shares information about people, places, and things.
Swipp offers a graphical representation of its participants' opinions about a variety of topics, such as a movie or a restaurant, a city or a celebrity. Your rating on a 10-point scale (+5 to -5) contributes to a graphical map of those opinions, which can also be sorted by gender, location and other factors.
Using Swipp requires a Facebook account, although Swipp's developers are quick to point out the differences between Facebook and Swipp. They say that Swipp gives its users greater control over their own content. Downloading and reusing material, for example, will be easier than Facebook, they say. Swipp's API will be more open, too.
However, Swipp's business model calls for creating custom analytics from information collected from its users. This data may be valuable to the organizations or individuals that Swipp users assess. But somewhere down the road, Swipp may have to balance data-collecting with privacy expectations in the same way that occasionally trips Facebook.
Have FB, go Swipping
Setting up a Swipp account is easy, as long as you have a Facebook account and are willing to allow Swipp to access your public profile information, friends list, email address, and birthday.
An iPhone app is also available for the service.
Swipp will also request to make postings to your friends' Facebook pages on your behalf, but you can deny that request and still open an account. However, whenever you log into Swipp in the future, it will hound you about posting to your friends' pages before letting you access your account.
From inside your account, you interact with Swipp. That means browsing and commenting on a person, place, item, or issue on the current Swipp stream. You can view the streams of comments from others on the service before entering your own. You also can control your settings for the Swipp service and view information about your activity on it.
At the "Swipp It" screen, you can enter a person, place, or thing you'd like to Swipp (the term is intended as a verb as well as a noun). You can choose the target of your commentary from items listed in the current stream, or enter a new topic. As you type, Swipp will suggest matches for you, in a type of auto-complete function. Swipp's developers explain this will help ensure consistency, so the stream isn't littered with references to "San Francisco," "San Fran," "The City" and "Frisco" that all refer to the same place, for example. You simply choose what you're looking for, add a comment if you choose, and rate it--from -5 to +5--using the graphical slider control at the bottom of the Swipp box.
The process is simple enough, especially if you're commenting on something already easily identifiable in the stream. You can turn to the Explore screen to browse a list of topics that have been Swipped by others. You can choose a topic already in the stream and add your own Swipp to the collection of global opinions and comments. Or you can scope it out a bit, checking the tally of ratings and comments already Swipped. You can also choose to track it, which is form of bookmarking, to watch global opinion progress.
In addition to sharing a comment, you can add photos and files to your Swipps. However, the add photo feature can be painfully slow. And I couldn't find a file type that the system would accept. Dragging a Microsoft Word file to a Swipp, for instance, produced a "file not supported" error.
Results information displayed in Swipp includes a list of people who have Swipped the topic, their rating of it, and the shelf life of the Swipp (the number hours or days it has been building). The Results screen also provides a map showing a geographic distribution of ratings for a topic, as well as the ratings split between males and females, and mapped by age.
In addition to the analytical information in results, Swipp offers an information tab. Clicking on that tab will display additional information about a topic from a crowd source information site called Freebase, operated by Google.
You can see what's being Swipped in real time from the Stream screen. You can view what your friends are Swipping on the screen or see what any participant is Swipping.
As with the Explore screen, you can Swipp an item in the stream, as well as view results, track it, or flag it. Flagging a Swipp is a way to sanitize the system from things like hate speech, pornography, spam, and copyright infringement. Swipp developers note that only public people may be Swipped, so you can't typically rate your neighbor or classmate.
Your Swipp account can be customized from the settings screen, which includes options such as language. There you can toggle among social networks, sharing your Swipped comments via your Facebook and Twitter accounts. You can tailor how the notifications are sent to you, such as by text message or email. This is also where you invite friends to join Swipp, which is what the service will need to hit that critical mass of usefulness.
Swipp's Me screen tracks your personal activity on Swipp. There you can see which topics you've Swipped, the topics you're tracking, and which of your friends are on Swipp.
Got room for Swipp?
With social networks like Twitter and Facebook already sucking up many a person's online time, Swipp will have an uphill battle attracting eyeballs. Its slogan "Social intelligence" is intended to emphasize its distinction by offering compilations and analytics of the Swipped items.
In fact, sophisticated functions like grading topics--a superior system to Facebook's crude "like" system--and instant access to statistics on topics are nice features. But it remains to be seen if they're enough to make Web wanderers carve out time to stop by and participate in yet another social network.