Community and social computing
Just got my copy of Anderson's The Long Tail and Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds. There's just no end of reading and research for this new field of Web 2.0 and that is what makes it exciting. Check out my reading list so far.
I have already read through about 70 pages of Anderson's book in one sitting at the bookstore; it is just that easy to read. The ideas so far seem focused primarily on mass retail opportunities like the music, movie, book, etc. industries, rather than specialized ones like our software industry. For example, there are thousands of book titles, hundreds of genre's and a long history of specialization. Software on the other hand tends to be generic one-size or a-few-sizes-fits all. Most people don't expect a software vendor to carry thousands of different/specialized offerings (although the game software market comes close). I guess I'll have to read further on how it can apply.
I’ve been looking for relevance of
The three forces he mentions are democratization of production, democratizationof distribution, and connectionsbetween supply and demand. I can actually see correlations between thoseforces and social software systems, which aren’t hard based on the manysuggestions he makes:
This just fulfils the applicability of the forces, but Ineed to still explain the application of the strategy to software products.
Many software applications are consumed in a different waythan content focused items like books, movies, music, etc. Most obviously, theyare usually tools used to accomplish, build, or fulfill something. Not all fitthis of course: computer games are still primarily a similarentertainment-consumption model. However, tools that a vendor, say IBM,produces are typically used to create or manage other things like applications,data, or knowledge.
This means that you can usually reuse a piece of software todo different tasks (assuming it is not restricted by the license-usage) if youwant to. More so, the deployment of such tools can be different for eachcustomer; and unless there is consulting involved, most vendors do not keepprecise track of exactly how they are deployed. Instead they tend to focus onthe type and number of products purchased (and, very often, how to get thecustomer to buy more).
Across the whole industry however, there is some level ofparity. Many customers with similar businesses may deploy the product insimilar fashion, or come across similar issues, a concordance of some sortaround the usage. These concordances are fuzzy (i.e., not identical) and ofvarying size.
Vendors may sometimes investigate if these concordances orniches of product use represent a potential market. In other words, they arelooking for that next ‘hit’ product that will sell profitably. What are missed in many cases are the smaller non-hit niches.In other words, there is a correlation to long-tail idea.
Vendors do want to capitalize on these opportunities but thediscovery and development of such opportunities can be difficult. Thetraditional business-case approach very quickly: make a hypothesis on apotential product, conduct research on market potential, shape the product,more research, more development, then marketing, launch, support, etc.
The niche products are often eliminated in the market researchstage usually because it is difficult to find proper subjects to interview andconduct the research with.
Changing business-case development
There is another way about this that can work forestablished or existing companies but it is yet to be tested enough to becalled a process.
Assume you have a base of users (a great many exisingcompanies) that have deployed or are interested in deploying your softwaretool.
The approach here is the opposite or bottom-up approach to definingmarkets that self-emerges from healthy active communities, rather than thetraditional top-down (the vendor trying to come up with new ideas). More so, itallows the potential for directly involving customers and users into theproduct-development lifecycle.
The role of online communities here is crucial. This meansnot just the passive approach of “let’s deploy something and leave it outthere”, but actually building relationships with the customers in thesecommunities, finding the influencers within, and trying to encourage healthygrowth. On other words, you need an active program to develop your community.
The dropping costs of “creating” such niches (moreaccurately: encouraging them to develop) through online mechanisms, means thatit is possible to explore many niches simultaneously, if you have a goodmeasurable system. Those with most potential automatically elevate to thehigher rankings, larger groups, and most activity.
I may be reaching here but it is almost like what quantumcomputing promises: calculate all the variations of an equation simultaneouslyto determine the correct—potentially multiple—result based on the highestprobability. (It might only truly apply if you have a really huge number of usersand a really huge number of products).