GoodGuide and the Possibility of Peer Consumption
November 13th, 2008

I’m heartwarmed to write about GoodGuide, a startup I’ve been observing since it was in stealth mode, which has a team of dedicated individuals I dearly admire (hi Eric, Dara) and took the top prize at the Web 2.0 Summit’s Launch Pad last week. GoodGuide is a gargantuan database of information about the environmental, health, and social implications of products and companies. Its purpose is to help users align their consumer behavior with their values, “shifting the balance of information and power in the marketplace” and enabling what could be referred to as consumer governance.

To date, the team’s focus has been on core capabilities, such as partnerships with data providers and the methodology for rating products and companies. Most recently, they made GoodGuide mobile, allowing users to access product ratings via text messages and through an iPhone app, i.e. access product ratings at that critical point-of-purchase. The information in the database currently comes from research done by GoodGuide’s team (based out of UC Berkeley), along with a network of leading academic institutions, government data sources, non-governmental organizations, and private research firms. But the longer-term vision is to enable users to communicate and form groups around shared topics of interest, rate and comment on the information in the database, and even generate it themselves (think workers and other people who experience the environmental, health, and social implications of products/companies firsthand…). Specific social media features might include: messaging between users; messaging from users to companies; making information tag-able and share-able via digg, Facebook, and otherwise; a social rating system for generating lists of top-rated products; and the ability to contribute to the site’s blog, among other opportunities for user-generated content.

So what does GoodGuide have to do with smart mobs? Well, if smart mobs manifest the emergence of technology-enabled collectively intelligent behavior, then GoodGuide – by helping consumers connect through, form groups around, communicate about, and even create the information they need to engage in consumer governance – may allow for the emergence of technology-enabled collectively intelligent consumer behavior. The un-palatability of this phrase is why I call it “peer consumption” (a reference to Yochai Benkler’s notion of peer production). “Peer consumption” happens when consumers use technology to coordinate their consumer behavior in an intelligent way, in this case, for purposes of alleviating the environmental, health, and social implications of products and companies. This situates GoodGuide with Carrotmob and other emerging phenomena which – if you’ve read this far and want examples of – I’d be glad to share.

Regardless of peer this or that, it will be fascinating to see what happens as GoodGuide unleashes the wrath of social media on its site. And if you become a member, you can partake in the collective action.

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