Archive: collaborative platform

Viral Social Commerce

These past months have, in a way that I would not have thought possible, created a start-up market situation closely resembling a certain period in time that we had in 1999. A number of new start-ups have sprung up that stem from what I call “feature-itis”, that is: their main business idea is not the creation of a value that addresses a particular market in a way that is commercially feasible, but much more the “hey- wouldn’t it be cool if it were possible to do this or that on the web” impulse.

If you sift through the business history of the first and second wave of the internet and try to analyze which companies ended up being successful, which companies were moped up as additional features to Yahoo! and bought out, and which companies simply failed, you find out that at the end of the day it’s not at all about a new economy, it’s about very old principles of

– servicing viable markets
- with a viable market proposition/value proposition
- and at an affordable price

in the widest sense of price, that is: convenience, access, time, budget and eventually price in dollars.

If we now look at what I like to call Web 3.0, that is, the commercial maturity of the social phenomena that we are observing with Web 2.0, then remembering that business history and applying the method of identifying customers for a market that are prepared to pay a given price, is a healthy mental exercise.

You’ll allow me to refer to myself and my earlier Blog entry about the distinction between Web 1.0, Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 and briefly describe Web 2.0 as the discovery that the internet is not only a repository for information and data, and a network through which e-mail and chat communication can happen, but has become a medium where

the human source of information

and human source of opinion and entertainment becomes as accessible as the data that he/she has created, that is at the core of the Web 2.0 social revolution. And as any revolution, it creates a whole new set of social behavioural changes, business opportunities, political implications and essentially an entirely new medium- which incidentally is not only confined to the Blog or Social Network phenomenon.

Stating these now commonplace insights into Web 2.0 leads me to reflect upon the Web 3.0 phenomenon, that is the commercial viability of all of these changes. As described in my Blog entry, I believe strongly that this will be the era where the source of data and information, and essentially this means the

human individual as a source of expertise,

can more and more market that expertise in many different ways- either

- by being accessible as an expert or
- by offering more in depth information or
- services related to the information
- transactions / products related to the information

for any kind of currency (this may be a social reward or a commercial reward/payment) in a variety of models that can range from subscription to micro-payments or even other forms of transaction that we may not yet even imagine (my informed hunch is “subscription” will mean many different rental models that are being imagined right now). As of now, the main focus of business endeavour in the Web 2.0 to Web 3.0 transition era, is to create and monetize exactly these kinds of platforms- much in the way that sevenload is doing for the video world.

In the future, business focus will be to harness the technologies, communication methods and social behaviour of Web 3.0 to create new value and new markets, thereby disrupting existing business structures. Increasingly, this will be achieved by individuals and small companies rather than larger companies.

The challenge is to identify these markets beyond advertising. If we look at what is happening right now in the Web 2.0 sphere, it is essentially one giant cannibalization of the editorial market, trying to supplement old media and replace them with “Facebook-”, “MySpace-”, and “YouTube-” (new) models of broad- and selfcasting and interaction with the user. That will, of course, be successful, but it is hardly imaginable that more than a productivity or effiency increase of more than 25-35% (maybe even 40% or 50% through better targeting) with relation to the advertising market can be sustained.

Even more market volume may be created by opening the advertising market to new segments that, until now, had a high cost barrier towards advertising, for example in the Long Tail of smaller and mid-sized companies, or in niche markets which had to rely on direct marketing because there was no medium for them to address at sales efficient cost on a large scale.

This disruption of the advertising marjet is of course fueled by the radically changed cost-dynamics of Web 2.0 platforms and the possibility to address the long-tail of content and offering highly specific audiences to as specific advertisers.

This opening of niche markets for advertising may one day – probably soon to come – come as far as user groups and communities centered around exotic topics such as the nuts and bolts of drilling joints (or something similar).

But by and all, if advertising is the only focus of what is happening right now, there will inevitably be a crunch at the moment of realization that there is just not enough money in these markets to create hundreds of new billion dollar companies. Even though a return to the Nuclear Winter of The Internet of 2001-2003 seems unlikely, it is highly probable that we will have a structurally similar shake-down and that just one or two more Yahoo!(s) or Google(s) will crop up, having found the holy grail of

on-demand fully trackable horizontal niche long tail CPA advertising

By the way, addressing that advertising market will also have to overcome a formidable opponent which is very well positioned to address the long-tail of advertising, and that is Google.

My point in this Blog post is that there have to be, and there will be business models beyond advertising and they are starting to emerge. Essentially these will be transaction based and will be centered either around the handling of goods in an e-commerce sense (that is already being seen in a number of start-ups) for example, by itravel, but there will also more and more be transaction platforms centered around services, much in the sourcing logic mentioned above.

The sum of these developments is what I call “viral social commerce”. It is viral in the sense that its dynamics of growth/expansion are very much word-of-mouth and very much based on the social phenomena of Web 2.0.

*I might add, that these phenomena are not new, word-of-mouth has always been the most powerful marketing instrument, it’s just that technology has enabled it to travel at light-speed, where before it was at a horse carriage pace.

It is social in the sense that, not only communication, but also increasingly parts of the production process and the definition of the product/service offered will be defined not by an entity that is producing it, but rather by a group of people or a community that adds a significant part of the value that is being created. An example for that is again itravel, where the travel community creates a lot of the product knowledge and even product sourcing that is necessary to create its catalogue of once-in-a-lifetime-experiences. Another example is ChariTees, where the community sources not only the designs, but also decides which designs will appear on t-shirts and also decides which institution would benefit from that part of the proceeds of ChariTees that is being spent on charity.

The commerce part of the “viral social commerce” idiom, reflects on what I was describing at the beginning of my post, namely that this is more than a social communication phenomenon and it is also more than pure interaction, it is in essence a whole new commercial dimension to what happens in our increasingly web-enabled society.

Viral social commerce is, for me, the essence of what will happen with Web 3.0. In my next post, I will describe how companies can confront this development and attain competitive advantages by harnessing them.

What is Web 3.0 ? (revisited)

As always, that’s a difficult discussion. First of all it’s important to remember that “Versioning” the web is initially a marketing trick, albeit a powerful and a valid one. It does make sense to try to assess the pace and scope of change in and through the Digital Revolution. In our internal discussions at we differentiate the technical, the social and the business levels of analysis. Our very broad clusters are as follows:

Web 1.0:
It is particularly inexact to retroactively dub the pre-2004 era as „Web 1.0“, since that is a rather vast period of time which underwent different phases in itself. When did it start? With Tim Berners-Lee & the appearance of Mozilla in 1993? With the first Social Network (sic!), the Well, in the 1980s?, With the ARPANET in 1968?

Tim O’Reilly coined “Web 2.0” as a call to reconsider the then ruling technical paradigms and the generalized underestimation of the social and economic impact of the internet in post-bubble headache times. But the 90s, the bubble, and 2001 – 2003 constitute a wild rollercoaster of different developments. In our view in short:

The first simple websites evolved to more and more interactive, from static to dynamically generated, from handcrafted to cms-driven, from pure media to more and more transactive, and these vast increases in value remained through independently of the vast hyperbole of expectations that the New Economy and Irrational Exuberance engendered. In software paradigms though, simple web development and early script-based architectures and languages were supplanted by Enterprise Application thinking, the advent of web services, and the JAVA Revolution. After 2001, you were a wimp if you stuck to PHP.

Mostly Early Adopters went from discovering the web and portals as sources of information to accepting shopping, then dating and other increasingly interactive services and transactions.
The Internet, however, was never “lean-back”, a prerogative of TV.

The only really working business models (at high volumes) were
a) lead generation for existing brick and mortar business (“click and mortar”)
b) Online Advertising (mostly banner, after 2002 more and more search engine marketing)
c) E-Commerce (online sales, B2C or B2B )

BTW: Many ideas that now resurface in Web 2.0 were imagined just then, but failed because user behaviour and markets weren’t there yet. We founded as a very early precursor of, for example.

Web 2.0:
Somewhere around 2003, disgruntled entrepreneurs, the aforementioned PHP Wimps, the Linuxites, and others started reforming and having Galilean Moments („eppure si muove“ – “and the Earth does rotate”). That is what O’Reilly picked up at his conference in Fall 2004 when he coined Web 2.0.

On the technology side, Web 2.0 can be oversimplified by describing it as a set of new or renewed technical paradigms:

a) the return of scripting and DHTML.
b) AJAX and the transformation of websites into dynamic applications
c) much faster development speed, prototyping
d) APIs and total interoperability of all digital services (mashups, microformats etc..), the rebirth of standards
e) the end of the concept of “the site”, with functionalities spreading across converging media (web, mobile, TV) instead

a) You Are Not Alone:
If “Web 1.0” was all about discovering the potential of interactive services, then Web 2.0 is the discovery of the Fellow Users, of the immense potential of finding online people that you can share interests and needs with.

b) You Can Do Things Together / User Generated Content:
New Web 2.0 tools let the vision of the web as a collaborative platform slowly become true: every type of content can be shared, discussed, rated, and messaging allows constant and instant, but also deferred and intermittent interlocution with other users (networking, messaging, Blogging, co-shopping etc…).

c) Mashup Everything / User Generated Functionalities:
The combination of different services, information, and functionalities that the technical paradigm shift of web 2.0 makes possible opens a whole new set of possibilities for networked and collaborative behaviour on the web that creates value from the wisdom of crowds and the knowledge of the few.

a) Businesses are under pressure and with the opportunity of adapting to the fact that the consumer / customer has an increasingly wide, reliable, and truthful range of sources of information and first-hand experiences with any given product.
b) Creating customer communities becomes increasingly relevant as a business factor. This increases the demand on long-term accountability and trustworthiness of business institutions
c) In the same vein, Business and Media monopolies on information and broadcasting power are dwindling with the advent of increasingly differentiated access to the opinions and knowledge of customers and the creation of increasingly valuable User Generated Content and Community-Based or Collaborative Functionalities. This doesn’t mean a perfect world of truthfulness, but it certainly shifts power to the customer.
d) an open question is by whom and how is this information power, the interlinking of customers, and the long tail of business, going to be aggregated, thus creating the next Googles?
e) On the long tail of business, even the most absurd niche markets can network worldwide, thus creating market volume until now completely untapped.

Web 3.0:
We don’t really need a new term – but it is clear that versioning will somehow be inflationary, since it is such a nifty marketing tool. So we might as well tackle the definition now (and secure some mind share early on, hehe).

In our view, Web 3.0 describes where the different patterns and revolutions might lead to. Think “minority report”, “Neuromancer”, “Matrix”, for early paradigms (not literally of course, we’re between 30 and 1000 years away from that). It is hard to describe and open for discussion, but we see the following trends:

a) Interoperability and total convergence of all media and networks to form the Evernet
b) The End of The Site: Functionalities can be used by any user on any device in any network.
c) Everything is mashed or modular or snippeted or microformatted, so that a search on your handheld will deliver a topical article, four experts, seven alternative topical products to be ordered along with their ratings and reviews, three according services and information about what your friends or respected contacts think about the topic, all in one fell swoop.

a) The rise of the „Digital Boheme“ – in a No Man’s Land between employment, freelance and artistic lifestyle, everyone on the web can “market” whatever talents he has, whenever and however much he wants.
b) Thus, “virtual environments” will play a much bigger role in determining the social status of an individual much more than his geographic environment used to. In other words, the lost liberal hippie tech geek living in, say, Oklahoma suddenly gets a life and recognition – that’s one of the reasons for the hype about Second Life.
c) Thus a) and b) become more and more determining for the identity of the individual – with all due consequences
d) Technology and the networking of individuals and their expertise will lead to an increasingly efficient tapping of the Deep Web (that has been building up since 1974), thus creating a “semantic and human web”, where searching and finding delivers increasingly complex results, ranging from data / documents to Evernet functionalities and sites, to experts and interest groups and events.

Business – we call it VIRAL SOCIAL COMMERCE
In the virtual worlds of the web 3.0 or Evernet, every individual will get a much fairer share of his or her social and economic status. If until now, the consumer was an object of the economy, he increasingly becomes a an active element in every one of his areas of expertise and interests. (Someone who is into handmade puppets from the Münsterland [a region of Northern Germany] can connect to fans of handmade puppets worldwide an be recognized as an expert and set up business selling access, expertise, or even the puppets themselves – if he chooses to do so).

We could call it the Ebaying of life – but the differences to the Ebay model are:

a) it expands virally along social network lines
b) it is not focused on price, and probably not even profit-oriented, but is a blend of social and economic rewards that triggers individual behaviour
c) it is in an elementary sense democratic, with almost any space for very individual definitions of success and lifestyles.
d) thriving in such environments will require new business, communication, and marketing models in almost any industry.

In Science Fiction, the various visions of the emergence of a web interlinking society almost invariably include that web become a determining factor of social and economic status in the real world. We aren’t that far away from that, even if reality always tends to be mundane. What is almost certain is that already today, the web liberates the individual even from very difficult forms of seclusion, allowing him to overcome niche market intransparency and increase his social and economic impact in society.

What we are doing at sevenload (, itravel (http://www.itravel,de), oneview ( and Qype ( is working toward that vision.

Join us, discuss, hire in, let’s create the tools of this evolution step by step!

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