"You are what you do, that's the philosophy of Mightybell," says Gina Bianchini, the former CEO of sprawling, Andreesen-backed network of social networks Ning, about her new startup Mightybell, which launches today. "We've spent the last 5 years calling success the number of friends, fans and followers we've accumlated - [but now] people using social software want more. Mightybell seeks to offer a simple way to take new social technologies and turn them into compelling experiences for people in the real world. We think the next innovation in social software will be its impact on daily life."

Mightybell opens a limited beta today and is charging $1 for access. (Cool idea.) Instead of publishing blog posts or random status messages, Mightybell users will publish experiences - with step-by-step instructions so that other users can sign on to have the same experiences themselves. "People of action think big and then act incrementally," Bianchini says. "Mightybell provides a lightweight way to structure that." It's an ambitious vision, making aspiration programmable, measured and social. Mightybell's not alone in this field, but Bianchini says she and her team's aim is to use their experience to out-execute competitors and build the richest, most compelling service in this emerging space. I don't know if it's going to work, but it's an interesting idea.

Bell Tower 2.0

Gina Bianchini says the name of her company combines the idea of personal strength with the archetypal symbol for a social call to action - the ringing of a bell. While most of human history has seen bells used to call whole communities to gather and act together - Mightybell is more about individuals acting together. It offers a clean-looking Content Management System, an iPhone app and extensive analytics to allow individuals who've had great experiences, like going on a hike in Alaska or connecting returning veterans with jobs, to make far more sophisticated calls to action and for everyone to help each other succeed.

Each step in an experience is explained, photos can be uploaded, then people who sign on to have that experience register completion of each step and post comments to encourage one another. Experience creators can see where people get stuck so they can change the instructions as needed in order to optimize the experience.


Above: A Mightybell analytics page, click to enlarge.

The whole thing feels a little like Kickstarter, a little like 43Folders and a little like weight loss social network LoseIt. Lift, the new social network being backed by Twitter co-founders Obvious Corp, seems like it may be a direct competitor.

Presumptions of Freedom

Mightybell has an existential ring to it, clearly. "You are what you do" is a short but strong philosophical statement that not everyone agrees with. Some people, for example, feel like their lives are defined by who they love and are loved by, by what they think or believe, or by where they live and the cultural circumstances they were born into. Many others identify whit what they consume. When I asked why a person should accept the site's core philosophy of "you are what you do," Binanchini said "the one thing people control is their time."

This all assumes that we ought to have control over the meaning of our lives; an assumption I agree with but not everyone does - or is probably capable of.

I'd argue that most people don't have control over their time. People have kids, people have issues and most people in this world have to struggle with the burden of sustaining themselves without having any unique value they can offer the economy and thus monetize their time efficiently enough to be swimming in leisure and choices.

Bianchini may be able to say I will partner with the man who created the web browser, and I will lead a network of networks to give voice and community to millions of people with niche needs and interests. And then I will create a Mighty Bell, which others like me will use to call out to people who want to do great things, using step-by-step instructions delivered on an iPhone app! We can certainly hear her roar, but I'm concerned that enough of the rest of the world has been so traumatized by lead paint, processed food, stupid TV and multi-generational waves of parental neglect and worse that a social network would really be better to focus on helping people watch and share Justin Bieber videos over and over again than on climbing mountains literally and metaphorically.

In other words, I think people able to fullfil a vision of "you are what you do" are relatively rare and may number too few to populate a big social network. This is something Biancinni and I discussed and I believe she has every intention of building a broad network that reaches beyond the already privileged. We'll see if it works.

To borrow and twist Clay Shirky's metaphor a bit, the industrial revolution may have been coped with by mass consumption of gin and then the shrunken world of telecommunications by mass consumption of Desperate Housewives, but just because the Internet next offered the opportunity for peoples' "cognitive surplus" to be poured into editing Wikipedia articles doesn't mean that they are at all psychologically prepared to do so - having been raised by generations of gin-drunk, Housewives fans. You can lead people to action-based meaning but you can't make them drink it up. Maybe (just maybe) I'm being too myopic about all this.

Maybe things like Mightybell could be part of the solution to all that though. Time will tell. Gina Bianchini certainly has the social software experience and is due the respect to believe she can make a strong go of it. The app looks great, too. I feel privileged to be free enough to use it.

Photo of Bianchini by Lisa Padilla.