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.
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.