Dissolution of the Shop

The original commercialized blogger was a shopkeeper. They had to choose what to carry, and they had a lot at stake when they made their choice. They might get the word out with a cardboard tweet on asile 2, or via coupon spam in the local newspaper. They quite literally worked on commission — or at least on the markup they took over the wholesale price.

Now, the functions of the shop are being redistributed. Online brand advocates manage local marketing. Local may mean geography, but it may also mean the circle of their associates, where ever they are. Even more directly, local means the mobile device in your pocket. Others deal with sales; still others, possibly, with warehousing and shipping. Product service could be dealt with separately again.

The irony is that the same person who is incensed by product recommendations creeping into the online dialog may very well be someone who bemoans the march of retail giants at the expense of neighborhood stores. And yet the fabled relationship with a shop keeper was much more conscribed by commercial dictates of the shop than that with an online blogger: on the one hand shops can sell only what shopkeepers can stock. On the other, a commercial blogger can be purely commercial, but has much less other sympathy they can trade on, and much more competition. So if they are recommending, and want to establish a relationship at all, they better do a good job at recommending.

All of the components of the new retail structure are familiar, actually. But how are they going to be knit together in the new configuration, and by whom? Are we going to float down toward the new retail sea wafted by the gentle currents of Amazon? Or is it finally going to meander into the swamps, like AOL, with the glue provided by savvy startups like Zappli?

(I’m an investor in Zappli, btw…. )

Web 2.5: analytics for the masses

The Web 2.0 is about social media. Users don’t just explore, they post and collaborate. At the same time companies have started to use sophisticated marketing to reach out to potential consumers, trying to predict who they are and what they want based on their actions and who they collaborate with.

I believe the next step will be when the broad mass of internet users start using sophisticated analytics. Instead of only reaching out click by click, sites will increasingly offer to put users in touch with each other both for business and pleasure based on predictions about their affinities.

Ironically, this is the vision of user interaction on the web that we had at Abuzz in 1996. We thought the web would be too large, sparse and untrustworthy: people needed collaborative filtering to collaborate. If I’m right now, and reaching out mediated by algorithm becomes the rage in a couple years, we will have been perhaps 18 years early. I like to think I’ve learned a few things, but on this evidence, at least, I can’t recommend any of us as stockbrokers….

Apps vs Media

People who know me know that I sometimes don’t explain myself sufficiently. So it was the other day, when I asked Kamil to clean up a mockup…. To my surprise, Kamil put in a navigation bar at the top, and rearranged the display to simplify it. When I asked him why, he asked me — do you want a web app or a web site? I’ve just standardized the web site interface, so that users know what they are doing.

I told him it was supposed to be a web app, and that the prominent nav bar would be distracting. He asked me to define what I meant by a web app, vs. a web site. As this was a chat conversation, I took a few moments to search … someone else must have posted a handy definition, that I could refer to.

To my surprise, a good definition didn’t pop up. It would seem that web apps are taken to mean sites that had lots of javascript. But obviously this isn’t what Kamil was asking me to get at.

Here is my take: a web app has a state that the user takes a hand in creating, whereas on a web site, state can be mapped to “position”, in which the user explores. A site, or other media, is “there” independent of the user, whereas in an app, what is there depends on the user.

Obviously these categories are made to be subverted. Interactive stories try to allow the user to “co-create” the flow of the plot, and huge numbers of sites allow the user to create some content, if only a post or a profile. But I think these poles are useful: app — intensional, site — extensional.