It started with black nail polish. Last year, 26-year-old Internet entrepreneur Matthew Rosenberg spotted his little sister, an undergraduate student at New York University, catching on to a fingertip fad traditionally reserved for goths and glam rockers like Freddie Mercury, but which had somehow found its way to red-carpet-treading celebrities like Lindsay Lohan. “All of a sudden, every girl started wearing it. It was just all over the place,” Mr. Rosenberg said, sitting at his desk in his chic, one-bedroom apartment at Sixth Avenue and Downing Street. He moved there in February 2006, after graduating from American University with a business marketing degree, and got a job working at Yahoo! in media sales. “I was like, ‘Man, I would just like to know where this came from and how it spread.’ How do people on the street come up with these ideas?”
So Mr. Rosenberg called up his former fraternity brother at American, Andy Thompson, 25, who was working in the D.C. metro area as a designer at Live Nation, a Clear Channel spinoff company that promotes live events and concerts. Mr. Rosenberg explained his idea over the phone, and Mr. Thompson started drafting design ideas for a Web site that would track trends based on user opinions and approval ratings. Within a half-hour, Mr. Thompson had a prototype with little street-sign symbol people adorned with labels like “Edopter” and “iPods,” traipsing up and down a hill, based on his made-up rankings. They knew they were on to something.
Within a couple of months, both guys had quit their jobs, Mr. Thompson had moved to New York, and they’d raised $80,000 in funding from family and friends. On Feb. 15 this year, they launched Edopter.com, a “social trendcasting” site that collects and tracks trends with the help of Internet users from all over the world. Mr. Thompson said they hope Edopter.com will become a user-generated “Wikipedia of trends.” Each new idea, person, and thing, from hemlines to bag designers to political views, will have a “state of the trend” report on the site, displaying who started it, how it spread, and how it (eventually) died.
“We can follow it and literally see that, ‘Hey, someone in China started this trend and somehow that person spread it to Japan and it spread to this person and this person,’” Mr. Rosenberg explained. “We’re tracking the people who influence these things. It’s like that book The Tipping Point. [Author Malcolm Gladwell] was talking about this core of people who really affect the world. We’re putting that to the test, in a way. We’re trying to see if those people really exist.”
And also, how they play the game. Users, who sign up for free, are given 500 points to play with. They set up a profile, with an avatar and their age, sex, and location, and spend points to “get in” on (basically, approve of) early-stage trends in people, places, things, fashion, ideas, the Web, and media. It costs only 19 points to “get in” on belt-driven bicycles, which use rubber and a fiber belt instead of chains and toothy cranks to power its wheels. But that’s a new trend started by Mr. Rosenberg on Thursday, Sept. 4. It costs 206 points to join the Barack Obama movement, which has 100 Edopter adopters and has been around since the site’s launch. Edopters write “pitches” arguing why something is “the next big thing,” upload evidence of the trend spreading, like photos of Nicole Richie sporting black nail polish or a video of a group of girls walking on the street with gothic fingertips, and add links to news articles, like an AP dispatch about Chanel’s release of an $18 bottle of Black Satin polish.
Mr. Rosenberg and Mr. Thompson also set up a program that automatically scours the Internet for blog posts, articles, and other buzz to factor into the trend’s ranking. As trends spread, Edopters, who are sort of like investors, gain points and get a higher ranking on the site’s “influence” scale. Currently, the No. 1 Edopter is Mr. Rosenberg and Mr. Thompson’s fraternity friend from American. His user name is bj6035a. He’s 24, lives in Washington, D.C., and tuned into Edopter’s top trends (Gmail, tap water, iPhones) during their earliest stages.
Users can also be refunded points by backing out of trends they think are turning into tired fads (just like cleaning out your closet and selling those high-waisted jeans to the vintage shop).
Of course, there’s a reward for all of this hard work. Users may “cash in” their points at Edopter’s “Showcase,” which was just launched last week. Users can get $10 gift certificates from iTunes for 500 points. But so far, that’s it. Mr. Rosenberg and Mr. Thompson hope to woo more brands into offering exclusive products, like a cool pair of sneakers or a skateboard, to reward the most influential trendspotters on their site.
The only catch is the more points they spend, the lower their rank in Edopter’s influence scales. So the question is, will users want to cash in for free products or stay at the top of Edopter’s trendspotting league? Probably depends on the prize, and whether the site takes off.
SPEAKING OF WHICH, how big is this thing? Currently, Edopter.com has about 2,000 trendcasters, but Mr. Thompson is sure that number will grow.
“I hate to say it, but the culture of young people in New York is that really competitive nature of who can find the next big thing or rush to find the next cool thing,” Mr. Thompson said.
True, but aren’t there already a million other ways to kill time on your computer while competing with other people (hello, Facebook, and your prominent display of how many “friends” you have)? Isn’t this a lot of work to be an unpaid worker in the industry of cool? And is what Mr. Rosenberg and Mr. Thompson have come up with truly new, or simply new packaging?