Wednesday, 17 September 2008



The short version of this post is:

Selling on social networks can only be a by-product (hence the title 'buy-product'. Geddit? Oh dear, I am sorry) of the activities occurring on those sites, never a primary activity.

The long version is this:

In market economies there are two big problems with information: it's (occasionally)* inadequate and it's superabundant.

Why is information inadequate? Because you only know how good something is after you have bought it, so how do you choose between alternatives?

Why is there too much information? Because everyone wants a slice of the pie making those alternatives and the market gets flooded with products or services and thus information about those. (How do you choose between one-hundred types of olive oil? You don't for the most part. It's crippling. You move on.)

Add in the fact that this competition strips profits to the bone and you have three pretty good reasons for why brands should (and do so successfully) exist: to remove doubt about quality and ease the process of otherwise crippling choice for people who want to buy stuff, and pump scarcity (and thus juicer profits) back into things for people who want to sell stuff.

However, in the spirit of several recent books, solutions to the problem of inadequate and superabundant information can also be solved by [dramatic pause] other people. And more effectively because trust in other individuals is second only to personal experience itself.

Other people can literally 'test' products and services for you before you buy them yourself (by buying them themselves) and help narrow down the choice for you (by having had to narrow down the choice for themselves.)

People have probably been doing this since information in markets got to be doubly-dodgy. Nothing new in the behaviour. It even has a 5-syllable name: recommendation.

However, what might be new is that hitherto implicit recommendation could be made explicit and more useful with a dash of digital. Making stuff explicit seems to me to be the formula of the successful things in recent web (Facebook makes social relationships explicit, blogs records thoughts that would otherwise only exist in conversation or the mind, LastFM records the wake of your audio, StumbleUpon ossifies your digital discoveries etc.)

How would this work? Social networks would allow self-expression at a much finer level of detail allowing libraries of music, films, books, clothes**, etc that people have honed (not harvested automatically, which was the problem with Beacon). (Eventually content could be brought within such networks, so they operates as hubs of digital content.)

This in itself could present recommendations based on content (like iTunes Genuis) but also those made by other people in your group of friends. These recommendations wouldn't really be recommendations but comments/ratings tagged onto things by people. 'This track is awesome' could be really useful from someone who you (or your computer) knows you share taste with.

Picture time:

digital demographics

<span class=

One of the nice things about such a system is that it's lovely for people, providing stuff they might be interested in. However, there is also an opportunity here for social networks.

Another picture first:

untarnished social networks

And now I am going to quote myself, which is probably a bit wanky but here we go from a few posts back:
"When people use Google, they're looking for information. When they use Amazon, they're buying (or researching). The ads are working here because people want information, it's welcome if its good enough.

When they use Facebook (or any other social media) they're expressing, communicating and interacting with others (being social not being cognitive). The same ads aren't working here for the same reason you'd be a bit miffed if someone marched into the pub, dropped a sausage in your pint, yaddered on about how delicious they are and, by the way, how they are half-price at the moment."
The point is that in the social space clumsy selling (ads) is not welcome: the communication gets tarnished by it, so it's ignored and disliked. But, that is not to say that selling as a by-product is out of the question. Links to things - and charging the producers a little for those links - suits everyone.

* I put 'occasionally' in brackets because as soon as information is partially inadequate it gets perceived at wholly inadequate.
** Self-generated recommendations will probably work for clothes; other-generated recommendations won't work as well. People like their clothes to be different (but not too different) from their peers.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

negroponte's predictions

Prediction is usually a dubious business: things are way too uncertain and we just don't know what we're going to know in the future ('unknown unknowns' in NNT's terms). That's why Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte, which came out in 1995, is all the more freakish in its prescience.

Here's a smattering of things I liked, with the occasional few words after each from the perspective of now.

moving intelligence through media
The tidiest way I have seen the 'receive -> interact' paradigm change articulated.

computing <span class=
Basically, Apple's strategy and success.

pulling bits
RSS, Google Reader...

touch, the dark horse
Creeping in more and more. He also talked about "the tiny hole or two in plastic or metal, through which your voices access a small microphone" (p.159). This is still proving difficult.

digital demographics
Things like Google Reader's Top Recommendations, Amazon's recommend emails and iTunes' Genius represent this one quite nicely. Although still some way to go here.

digital on-demand
Hulu, BBC iPlayer and all the underground antecedents to these.

the global social fabric
This idea - communication as well as information - is rephrased a lot by pundits. What's impressive about this is that it saw the value of social online before it was made explicit with, sorry, nasty phrase coming up, Web 2.0.

the peeling boundary
Blogging seems the best example.

the process
Radiohead is my favorite example of this at the mo. (Also see here for what bitcasting - another of Negroponte's babies - is all about and how Radiohead's House of Cards 'video' is likely to have been the first example of this).

laws for atoms
Very broadly gets to the nub of all the legal issues bouncing around online.

And a few others that didn't make it into digital bites:
"Clipping bits is very different from clipping atoms" p.59
"On the net each person can be an unlicensed TV station" (p.176)
One word. YouTube
"...bits that describe other bits...will proliferate in digital broadcasting. These will be added by humans aided by machines, at the time of release...or later (by viewers and commentators). The result will be a stream with so much header information that your computer really can help you deal with the massive amount of content" (p.179)
tags, labels etc
"automobiles will enjoy another very particular benefit of being digital: they will know where they are" (p.216)
"The important point is to recognise that the future of digital devices can include some very different shapes and sizes from those that might naturally leap to mind from our current frames (sic) of reference. Computer retailing of equipment and supplies may not be limited to Radio Shack and Staples, but include the likes of Saks and stores that sell products from Nike, Levis and Banana Republic."
Basically, the web breaking out from behind screens, which I have thought about here. Nike+ is the golden example of this right now. A continuation of this idea:
"When this happens in a tiny format, all "things" can be digitally active. For example, every teacup, article of clothing, and (yes) book in your house can say where it is. In the future, the concept of being lost will be as unlikely as being "out of print"
I like the nod to long tail stuff at the end there with "as unlikely as being out of print"

(Skepticism: the book, being widely read, could have prompted people to work on the things Negroponte predicted ('invented'), giving the impression that the book is farsighted when it may have been prescriptive to future-makers)