Blog Post

Mod My Life Has Control Issues

Is Subservient Chicken a business model? That’s what the team behind startup Mod My Life will find out as they attempt to take lifecasting to the next level by letting the audience be in control of the lifecaster.

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It works like this: Mod My Life hires one of the many out-of-work performers out there — “Modstars,” as they call them — gets them to put on webcasting gear and go out into the real world (like the streets of New York, for example) for two-hour “shows.” Viewers log into My Mod Life, watch whatever Modstar is out there and suggest actions they want the Modstar to do. The suggestions are pooled, the online audience votes for their favorite and the winning suggestion is text messsaged to the Modstar, who then performs the suggested act.

During a preview we watched, suggestions for the Modstar included: Buy a slice of pizza, then get into an argument with it; sit outside a McDonald’s; ask a person with a cigarette for directions. Mod My Life is in a just-launched private beta, so there aren’t many people on the service, resulting in fewer command suggestions.

I was skeptical about the idea, figuring that only the truly tasteless commands would rise to the top. But co-founders Andrew Keidel and Martin Codyre said they’re trying to get ahead of that problem. They’ve implemented an algorithmic filter to block out prurient commands for the Modstar, and they have plans to add reality-show-like components into the mix so it’s not just giving someone random orders.

Keidel and Codyre launched Mod My Life in March, after they quit their jobs at Merrill Lynch. Currently, the company is self-funded; it launched its private beta in October and expects to go live in early 2008.

Eventually, they expect to have enough Modstars from around the globe performing so that you could drop in 24 hours a day and control someone else’s actions. They plan to make money through advertising and sponsorship of Modstars, the idea being, for example, that Coke would sponsor a Modstar to go through its factory and you could control what they do or see there.

Technically, the site worked well during the demo. Video was good, audio was clear and the command voting system worked (albeit there were only two people casting votes).

There are two big potential hurdles blocking Mod My Life. First, big brands like Coke are wary of giving control of their image over to UGC audiences. With so many variables in this mix (audience participation, the actions of the Modstar) left wide open to chance, I don’t see a marketer being able sign off on it.

Second, while I’m not lawyer, there seem to be some big liability issues. It’s one thing to lifecast what’s happening on your street, it’s another to manipulate what’s happening on your street (for profit). One of the commands offered was “Pretend to be a bouncer at Taco Bell.” What if the Modstar gets into a fight? And what will the Taco Bell people think of their brand being inserted into this mix?

Mod My Life is aware of these issues and working to implement workarounds. Modstars can refuse to do an audience-generated order, but that seems to defeat the whole purpose. And as noted, the company is still in a private beta, so it’s got time. In the meantime, you can go to the site, sign up for a beta account and start seeing how subservient they’ll be.