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August 28, 2014

Connecting Digitally: Let Us Count The (New) Ways

Posted by Amitabh Mudaliar (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:29 AM


Biz Stone: Twitter's Lessons Help Spread Jelly [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OXQXJ_UulE]

Twitter's co-founder Biz Stone is working on a new project - a search engine called Jelly. Part of Stone's reasoning is that the basic way we get answers to our online queries hasn't changed that much in the past 15 years or so. You type something into the search engine, hit return, and view the list of suggested matches. That's an eternity in digital time.

So what will be different about Jelly? Well, Stone says that he's envisioning what the world has become - a very tight conglomeration of digital consumers who are in close contact with each other. Now imagine taking all the 'stuff' from all of your social media networking - the photos and the maps and the messages and the locations - and combining it all to create a mega-social network.

When you ask that mega-network a question, it's using everything at its disposal instead of the way search engines used to operate long before there were social media sites. Instead of making friends on a popular social media site, maybe there are people who are as curious about certain aspects of the world as you are but outside your social network. By the nature of your queries, you're connected to these people because they have the expert answers. So your search becomes more efficient and less social.

Essentially, we as digital consumers are rewriting the book on what a network is and what its strengths are. And because of that, entrepreneurs like Stone are coming up with more optimal ways of tapping into these networks.

One of the digital companies that appears to understand this new paradigm is Alibaba. I'm watching its expansion very closely because the way it does things is different from any other web retailer. It might provide tantalizing clues as to the future of digital commerce. Its initial public offering in the United States is scheduled for sometime in the near future and is rumored by Wall Street analysts to have the potential of surpassing Facebook's $16 billion IPO in 2012. It recently unveiled a new site aimed at its new North American audience, 11Main. Experts are abuzz wondering how 11Main fits into Alibaba's plans for expansion because a customer needs an invitation from the site to join.

Think about every other mass web retailer. All you've ever needed is some proof that you'd be able to pay for their merchandise online. Yet 11Main isn't dedicated (not yet, at least) to the prospect of a mass shopping extravaganza. Perhaps Alibaba's slow and steady unveiling of its web site for Americans is to gauge their interest by putting the ball in their court. Their movements, such as requesting an invitation from 11Main, can tell a Web retailer a lot about consumer behavior.

One analyst criticized the secretive nature of 11Main's invitation list. But I wouldn't be so quick to criticize. Remember, in former versions of web commerce, the retailer was acting solely on strong ties to appeal to consumers. Now we're entering the era in which enterprises are investing to learn about their consumer base and further align interests.

I go back to Biz Stone's neat new thing - Jelly. He said that in the first 24 hours after its launch, the site had twice the number of accounts that were created in Twitter's first year. Word of mouth, he has rightly said, used to be word of mouth. Now everything is digital with people passing information to each other in an instant.

Not surprisingly, new web retailers are also launching in new markets with methods that perplex those with a command primarily of the traditional way of doing web commerce. Any way you slice it, digital commerce is moving faster than ever before. That's why retailers need to know what kinds of questions to ask consumers in that rapidly evolving space.

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