First a battered Starbucks tried to harvest the power of web 2.0 communities to improve customer relations and garner fresh ideas. Then Spot.Us launched to reinvigorate serious journalism through an innovative crowd-sourced funding model. Now, Vanno attempts to use a social network to rank the reputations of major companies.
In today's media-savvy and scandal-rocked culture, there is perhaps nothing as valuable to a company as it's public reputation. Despite the recession, sales of pricey Apple products are booming, in no small part due to the company's golden image. Contrast that to the quagmire that is Windows Vista, which some say is mired in negative reputation beyond what the buggy product itself may really warrant.
To greens, the reputation of a company can be even more important, and the sector heavily penalizes those it has labeled as paraiahs (Monsanto! Exxon! Royal Dutch Shell!). On the other hand, companies like Patagonia, Trader Joe's, Seventh Generation and others receive strong support.
Of course, companies are often large, extremely complex enterprises straddling many countries. At times one wing of the corporation can be doing green good while another division actively works to undermine that (witness GM and electric vehicles in recent decades). Things can change over time, and everyone places different weights on values: some care most about a company's environmental stewardship, others are most concerned with animal testing, and others focus on how workers or unions are treated.
Vanno hopes to harness the power of the crowd to sort through these difficult issues, by giving users the ability to rank how posted news stories affect their opinion of a company's reputation. The site launched this month, and applies undisclosed calculations to the ratings to score businesses in its database. Similar to many of the features of Digg, Yahoo Buzz, or Reddit, Vanno users can submit stories, vote up or down, comment and sign up for custom RSS feeds.
Vanno crunches data on companies' employee political contributions, community involvement, environmental and social responsibility, patriotism and employee and customer satisfaction, making the results viewable as handy bar graphs. The site is young, so the numbers are unlikely to be robust at this point, but the goal is to refine over time, so the results approximate the collective consciousness, much as Wikipedia has done with more objective knowledge.
The Internet community has already seen how transparency tools can help shine sunlight on often-secretive corporate behavior (see Wikiscanner and Consumerist), so Vanno seems promising as another way for The People to keep an eye on The Powerful. Sign up and check it out.
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