Socialbomb: Turning Social Athleticism into a 24/7 Affair

By the time children reach middle school, the socially-blessed ones rule the roost, while those who are shy, misanthropic, or otherwise deemed inferior get relegated to shabbier perches.

Online social networks have successfully replicated these social hierarchies online. Now, SocialBomb, a startup out of NYU, is taking things a step further, leveraging both online and real-life relationships to develop mobile games that can amplify who’s on top — and who’s not. “Runway Victim,” for example, awards or punishes players based on how their peers vote on the way they’ve dressed in their social network snapshots.

According to an SEC filing, SocialBomb has already raised $240,000 of a $350,000 round. It’s not clear if First Round Capital is an investor, but principal Kent Goldman (Yahoo’s former director of corporate development at Yahoo) is named in the filing.

The company also isn’t unveiling its full slate of games yet; its site says they’re coming in the fall. But the very first game of SocialBomb — which won NYU’s Stern Business Plan Competition last spring — worked like this: 15 to 20 participants could play the game of “Social Bomb,” with clear glass contraptions that housed a microcontroller, a radio transceiver, and a numerical display. Each player was awarded points for being near players with higher reputation scores. Points were lost as a players came within talking distance of those with lower reputations. The biggest loser of the group, the one with the worst reputation score, who most negatively impacted the social circle, became the “social bomb.”

The numerical readout let players know who outranked who, so they could discern who to seek out to improve their own scores, and who could weigh down their scores. But the algorithms were based on more than proximity. For example, longer conversations could demonstrate social superiority, and subsequent bonus points could drive a player’s ranking within the group. Similarly, a highly ranked player who wasn’t feeling particularly conversational could lose points.

SocialBomb’s four-person founding team are all alumnus of NYU; Clay Shirky, who has written widely about Internet technologies and teaches New Media as an adjunct professor at NYU, is an advisor.