Whatever you want to call it, eCommerce online is due for an upgrade. Marketplaces such as eBay created an easy place for people to trade and PayPal made it easy for merchants to accept payment and for consumers to pay each other. Yahoo Stores allowed any small business to setup a website and trade online. It all seems so complete – so then why do 72% of small businesses in the US still not have a website? What are we missing? For the tech savvy small business owner or individual, setting up an eCommerce presence online is relatively easy – but what about the scores of individuals and SME’s out there that can’t either can’t afford or don’t trust the Internet enough to move forward and setup a presence online?
People have been conducting peer to peer transactions online since the very early days of the Internet and sites like eBay & Craigslist have really made connecting with individuals much easier. My definition for “We-Commerce” is the point at which consumers coming online, do so with the intention of setting up their own web presence in order to become a commercial entity. This succeeds the current paradigm of just User Generated Content – it’s the next step forward.
User Generated eCommerce (We-Commerce) is really about consumers interacting and trading with each other using their own personal websites. Social networks are now creating the foundation for trust, and for a trusted community around prosumer ecommerce on the Internet. It’s easy to argue that people will much rather trade with people in their social network, than outside it. As Google & Facebook dabble in the realms of Google’s Friend Connect & Facebook Connect – it’s going to make it easy for website owners to create social networks around their businesses. Individuals will wield the power that trusted websites currently enjoy.
I’ve often argued the intrinsic value of Social Networks does not lay in the in the walled gardens that they have, but instead in the value of the data that they collect – no one has really figured out how to monetize that data, with respect to privacy. The default is to run advertising and turn a profit – the true monetization will come in time.
There is much to be said about the walled gardens of social networks – and in my opinion, they have their place. Much of the personal information that is collected by a social network is private and should remain as such – but surely the number of friends and connections that an individual has should be indicative of their integration and trust within society. Maybe I’m reaching here – but given that I have over 1,000 friends on Facebook – I’m pretty sure that if I was offering something for sale on this blog and that information was available, that it would infer some level of trust with me, especially for small transactions.
If we’re solving the problem of trust with SME’s & personal users – how do we get them online? We need to make it dead simple. Most SME’s won’t spend the money to build a website – and they will most likely to it themselves – this is what Microsoft Office Live, Google Sites (& SynthaSite ) are banking on.
Ok, so let’s assume that we’ve made it easy to get a web presence and now social network users and other less initiated Internet users have their own websites – what does that mean?
For many people, buying and selling through sites such as eBay is a way of life and the liquidity in the eBay marketplace really justifies being there – and I won’t argue that point. There are some issues around having to be a power seller before you really become trusted in that network. As a new eBay user, although I have thousands of friends on Facebook & LinkedIn – I am not a trusted entity on eBay – so I would much prefer to have my own site, which is validated by the strength of my network – so that people looking to transact with me can look at my LinkedIn recommendations, for instance. Trust on the Internet has to got to reach the point where it’s transferable from one site to another. There are many companies working in this space on this problem at the moment.
My point really is that commerce on the web is and needs to evolve. The argument that consumers are Prosumers is now truer than ever. CafePress does a fantastic job of allowing consumers to become producers, and effectively retailers.
However, the web is growing so rapidly that as search evolves, so will content. As users search for you on the web – how do you want to be seen? Do you want an old article from high school being discovered at first position in the search engine results – or is it your own presence on the web?
Can you imagine a world where everyone has their own website which they use for content, collaboration & commerce? I can too…
Update (3 June 08): Michael Arrington wrote a nice piece today on where Social Media is heading. He refers back to his previous piece where he describes the “The Centralized me“. As much as I understand, and consumer services such as FriendFeed, I truly believe that the centralized me is about “One man, One Website!”. My blog is my central place for sharing my photos ( I have used FlickR), thoughts, Digg links etc – and for many people, owning their own personal website would fulfill all the requirements they would have for a centralized me. By using API’s and site builders that can easily call 3rd party data (yes, yes – Data Portability plays a part in this) – we are able to create websites which are essentially mashups. Personal websites are more likely going to fulfill the mass user’s requiredment for the “Centralized Me”. It will also fulfill Fred Wilson’s comment that â€œevery single human being posting their thoughts and experiences in any number of ways to the Internet.â€
Further Update Wed 25th June 2008: Another good post from TechCrunch on how commerce will move from firms to individuals.