Brand your life story with Dandelife

Dandelife is a fascinating new “social biography network” that launched its beta this week. Users tell their life stories with text, photos, videos and time lines. Part of the business model will be to license users’ stories to corporations seeking case studies and brandable narratives. I feel very ambivalent about this.

The company is lead by Kelly Abbot of marketing firm Red Door Interactive and Edward Shenderovich, CEO of content management company Quantum Art. Dandelife’s advisory team is packed with rock starts: Ross Mayfield from SocialText, Bruce Livingstone from iStockPhoto, Jeffrey Zeldman from A List Apart, Reid Carr from Red Door and Mike Jones of Userplane. Dandelife is currently self funded and seeking angels.

The company’s leading competitor may be, a similar site that received $6 million in VC funding in January. OurStory founder and CEO Andy Halliday told me that his service may allow users to opt-in to anonymous aggregate studies in the future but that user generated content in their system will not be made available to marketers.

The functionality of Dandelife is great. Stories are told in text and set wherever the author wishes on a time line. Photos from Flickr and videos from YouTube, either yours or other public items, can be added by drag and drop. There’s tags, there’s feeds – it’s totally hip.

True social networking is under development, but biographical time lines will soon be able to link to each other through functions like “this reminds me of” new post creation and a distinct tag class for peoples’ names. Stories can be marked as favorites, most popular items appearing in larger text on each user’s time line. Breadcrumbs put each story in context.

What’s so strange about this system? The business model! Users will be able to make their stories available for branding by corporate sponsors bidding for content. Companies may license your stories for use off-site, as case studies in annual reports or advertisements, or they may sponsor a category of stories aggregated by tag. Dandelife says it will work out a system for acting as a broker between users and corporate licensees so that the users are compensated for their stories. The company is going to great lengths to ensure that consent is given before any user’s story is licensed and that’s great. I believe that free account users will also be asked for consent before any of their stories are licensed.

Yes, the line between life and work is blurring, yes we all have a right to monetize our writing and media content online – but renting out chunks of my life story for corporate branding is not something I’m comfortable with. I could just turn off that option in my account but the whole thing gives me the creeps.

The company told me they would be focusing on working with companies already widely trusted, like producers of things we put into our bodies (food, personal care). I suppose that if I trust someone enough to ingest their products then maybe I can trust them enough to sell them pieces of my life story! This seems like the kind of thing MySpace would do if they could.

Of course this is all opt-in, no one is forced to participate in the first place or license their stories to corporate customers. The company told me that they don’t want anyone to be asked to do something they wouldn’t be comfortable doing in the off-line world. And maybe it just says something about the direction society in general is headed – towards commoditization of even the most intangible parts of our lives. I don’t mean to be naive, I know that all forms of communication are becoming one big opportunity for data mining.

That said, Dandelife is a very well designed system. If it can develop into more of a network for stories than a marketplace for memories, many people may enjoy using it.