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July 19, 2009

What we can learn from Poken

What the heck is a Poken?

I learned about Poken during my tweetup with the local Web 2.0 types in Milan. Many were wearing little pendants called Pokens, which they explained allowed them to make social network connections. So I called the Poken company and got a few for myself and my friends. Below you see my Poken, along with my business card which it is trying to replace.

Josh poken The Poken has two parts. One is a plastic shell which you choose to reflect the some side of your identity -- mine is a little tiger. The other is the little hand part, which has a USB connector. You plug the Poken into your computer, it connects to the Poken site, and you enter as many of your social network IDs (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) as you're willing to share. Then you carry it around with you. If you meet somebody else you want to befriend, you "high-four" them, your Pokens exchange ID information when they come in close proximity, and the little light glows to tell you it worked.When you get home you can connect to your computer and see the information from your new friends. It's like exchanging a business card, only quicker and with more info.

I spoke with Stéphane Doutriaux, the Founder and CEO of Poken, a Swiss company, who explained that they're still in the alpha stage. The Web site isn't ideally laid out yet, but you can get the idea. It's fascinating, very simple, and he explained that it has really caught on since they starting selling them in Switzerland in January. People around the world are buying them just to be part of an exclusive sort of club. If you want to buy one in the US, they are $19.95 each and you can get one (or 10) here. This FAQ from an American distributor was helpful. They are also available in other countries like France and Australia and Japan.

I like the simplicity of the idea and the whimsy of the little pendants and "high-fouring" people. The problem is, unless you just think this is a cool pendant you're not likely to meet enough other people wearing one to make it worth wearing. If everyone had Pokens it would be great. They don't, yet, obviously. (Maybe Bulgari can make one encrusted with diamonds.)

But Poken has other use models, which my colleagues and I figured out and Stéphane confirmed. It could easily catch on with students at a college campus. It could work great with a bunch of attendees at a conference; Poken is working on putting it into conference badges. They key is to find a smaller group of people that want to connect and hit them nearly all at once. That makes the world into a target-rich environment for you and your Poken.

This made me wonder how many other types of networking are ready to catch on among small groups and then spread. Obviously this is how Facebook started. Ning is a startup that lives off of the desire of small groups to promote intra-group connections. I've very skeptical of companies that want to take over the world with their new social networking thingy. But if you want to start with little connected groups, you're probably better off. Take over the world later, when you have enough groups all excited about you.


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Eric P

This is very similar to http://www.ntag.com who have been around for a while in the conference space.


This would be perfect for Kansas City's chapter of the Social Media Club! We meet monthly for breakfast and often don't have time to meet/exchange info with everyone.

Unfortunately the link to purchase them doesn't work.

J.R. Atkins

What a cool way to bridge in person meetings and social network connections.


Great post. I remember seeing your tweet about giving out Pokens at the Forrester office and causing a buzz - they are fun, and people get excited when they see others with Pokens. A new twist on networking.

Visit our site to learn more and to grab your Poken!

Here's also link to the Poken company's FAQ:

Marco Zamperini

Great post Josh! Waiting for your next visit in Italy!

Josh Bernoff

Thanks for the comments. I fixed the purchase link; the distributor's site was down.

Bert DuMars

Pokens look very cool. You talked me into it. They might be too cute to take over the world, but will be a lot of fun at Tweetups!!


I'm not sure if I'd want to carry another piece of plastic around with me. This idea would have more legs if they integrated Pokens into mobile phones -- which everyone has and everyone is carrying anyway.

r van den hoff

we tried the pokens too in our convention centres:

1. far too expensive
2. design not for business people
3. not widespread enough
(if you have smaller groups you will know each other already)
4.even in badgets it will be too expensive, so where is the Chinese copy?
5. Nokia and others will feature this functionality soon in their mobile equipment

Josh Bernoff

Michaelmadej and r van den hoff -- very interesting ideas. I'd love to see a mobile phone version of this, but how standard is it/could it be? I love the poken basically telling everyone "I'm here and open to sharing."

But I think Mr. van den Hoff's objections about expense and business design are important for Poken to overcome if it wants to catch on.

Alexis Karlin

Great Post Josh...

I agree that it would be great for conferences and college students. Probably more so college students.

I love my Poken but I don't know a lot of people who have them so it's hard to Poken other people when they don't have them.

Maybe this will happens soon... :)

Connie Crosby

I looked at the Poken website last year. I love the idea, but thought it was too expensive. I would love to buy a bunch and hand them out from my little company as a promo tool, but the price is a bit prohibitive. If they could get them in the $5-$10 range would do it I think. Is it possible? I don't know.

Anthony Dayal

The idea appears good. But very soon we will all be like spacemen carrying a whole lot of gadgets on our body. I suppose there has to be some way to activate it, or I will be exchanging pokes with a neighbor in flight or park accidently.

Matt Penna

Hi Josh,

My friend gave me one of these little guys in Tokyo. I haven't found a place to use it yet.


High four!

Kind regards,


Bobbie Carlton

Hi Josh, I've been carrying my Poken around since I got it at the Forrester Tweetup, and even have it attached to my biz card holder on a lanyard that I wear to events. (I think that's kind of ironic.) I keep showing it off to people and hoping to meet others who have them. Been thinking that maybe I could get someone to sponsor giving them out at Mass Innovation Nights -- that would be 350 people or so in the Boston area social media community who would be able to use them and from there we'd be able to proliferate them. I would love to be able to use them -- just buying one and actually being able to use it is cheaper than a box of business cards. BUT, everyone needs to have one!


I didn't know about poken, this is a great idea! They are cute and they are useful, the idea is in fact pretty good. It makes the social game a bit easier and can help people to share. Love it!

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