There are a number of ideas/themes, some new and some old, that point to a very interesting potential disruption of the current Internet ecosystem. These include:-
– The sematic web
– Twitter (as a messaging platform with open access)
– Apps (as client-side software made as easy as websites)
– Social recommendations (as a new form of advertising)
– Embedding eCommerce into Ads (as portal/retailer bypass)
By way of a quick history re-cap, the Internet promised to remove ‘intermediaries’ from the global value chain, thus making everything cheaper as there are less mouthes to feed between the ‘manufacturer’ and you (the end consumer). At the moment, in complete contrast to this vision, we are seeing the emergence of ‘Super Intermediaries’ in the form of Apple, Google and (to a lesser extent) Microsoft. These Super Intermediaries pose a macro threat to the current crop of ‘Web Portals’ (e.g. Expedia and Amazon), but don’t represent a fundamental collapse in the value claimed/charged in getting product to consumers.
The Semantic Web concept, put very simply and perhaps a bit incorrectly, pointed to a vision of ‘my robot’ chatting to ‘your robot’ in order to find things I’m interested in. In this world, the idea of a shop-window doesn’t exist, you buy direct from the ‘manufacturer’ and the intermediary role is displaced by an algorithmic ‘negotiation’. Brand/’Manufacturer’ advertising/promotion remains very important in creating desires for the products I search for in the first place. ‘Manufacturers’/Brands still need a logistics partner to get product to you, but the idea of Retailer brands and ‘shopping malls’ declines. Social Recommendation and exhaustive algorithmic search displaces the art of shelf-placement and product buyers. Clearly this vision has not happened yet. Certain elements of it have, but these have simply been presented as new forms of Portal with a functional speciality (e.g. Kelkoo, Priceline)
So what do I mean by ‘Twitter for Industry’. Twitter is many things, but viewed from one angle it is a ‘message bus’, filled with noise that you extract points of interest from based on filters. You could view it a bit like Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) ware (if you are a deep SI geek). In the Semantic web-vision, ‘Manufacturers’ would ‘publish’ their products to a ‘Twitter’ like message bus (a bit like rich-snippets being published on the web). Robots, or ‘shopping apps’ would then trawl this Twitter-sphere, using the product pointers identified in the stream to initiate ‘negotiations’ with the publisher. Publishers who lie to attract unwarranted attention would be ‘punished’ by having their ‘reputation’ marked down. A third party (either an entity of agreed code-base) would exist to keep the system ‘honest’. A world of permission based advertising would open up, but with ‘robots’ acting as your first filter. You state what your interested in (either directly as product, or people who’s product taste you respect) and the world comes to you with click-to-buy suggestions. Given the open nature of the ‘message bus’ any shopping app could exploit it – it is in this way that the Portal role is ‘destroyed’ and displaced with client side code you ‘trust’ or ‘train’. Retailer/Portal brand equity (and the value in commands) is displaced by ‘open source algorithms’ operating on client-side software (whose deployment is now made easy in the form of Apps).
Fancy (www.thefancy.com) is an example of someone potentially exploring this vision, but still very far from what I’ve described. All of these visions require ‘Manfacturers’ to be willing to sell direct and upset their existing channels (many of which do so already, as Portals are actually only ‘standing in front of them’ on the web). It also requires (for physical goods) the existence of logistics companies to provide product delivery – something the mailing giants are already moving into. The big question in my mind is, who has enough money and power to bring this concept to life, who doesn’t already profit from maintaining the status quo?