Posted by: rolfsky | October 16, 2007

sponsor happy hour by building widgets

Deploying applications to social networks is a tricky business which may require rethinking both what we are trying to solve for, and how we expect that audience to solve it.

Yesterday I spoke on a Facebook developer’s panel at the Widget Summit hosted by Niall Kennedy. On the panel with me were Joyce Park co-founder and CTO of Renkoo (of BoozeMail fame) and Ryo (sorry, didn’t catch the last name) from Visual Bookshelf. I was of course speaking about our eBay Marketplace, eBay To Go, and Giftbay applications. Three representatives from distinctly different businesses, each had our own take on the market and why our respective companies had entered the space.

Joyce actually directly challenged eBay’s entry, saying that she didn’t quite get the marriage of bringing ecommerce into the social sphere and actually found it a little “creepy”. I admitted that indeed the transition down the pyramid from social back into commerce was a difficult one, and it was something that everyone trying to do commerce on Facebook was struggling with. Facebook’s own “Marketplace” app could be doing better and Buy.com’s “Garage Sale” app hasn’t gotten much press since its release.

A good analogy that I used last week with an internal team was that of a pub. If we look at what people do in mainstream social networks we will notice that the goals are all very similar: hang out, have a good time, mess with each other a little, play some games, maybe check out some members of the opposite sex. Good clean harmless fun. It is with this attitude that the public approaches social networking. They’re not really in the “commerce” sphere of thinking at that moment.

Now, if we look at what brands might do well in a bar, we can find a few key categories:

  1. to be consumed: Absolut, Budweiser, Corona, Heineken, Sapporo, Marlboro
  2. to be enjoyed: ESPN, Nascar, CNN, FIFA, Rugby World Cup, Lotto
  3. to be shown off: Harley Davidson, Levis, Versace, Louis Vuitton, Nike, Puma, Adidas, Lacoste, iPod

As more and more businesses push into the social networking arena we have to look at their reasons why. The preliminary evidence is showing that there are three main reasons for joining the marketplace. Either 1) you make a product that directly enhances the experience of social networking, 2) you have a world-class brand that a high percentage of members will identify with, 3) your brand carries high enough cachet that users want to show their association with it.

From the panel discussion, I would say that both BoozeMail and Visual Bookshelf fall into category 1 and eBay’s entry to be more focused on category 3. Option 1 is like inventing “darts” or other pub games: a few opportunities spread around a few clever companies. Because the space is so new, there’s still room for “inventing” things like poking people. Option 2 is much like option 1, but requires more money because you need thousands of people to agree that it’s pretty good and passion in from the outside world. Yesterday I saw examples of this with sponsored World-Cup applications. Option 3 takes even more money (or time), because you’re actually influencing passion and how people make decisions that require active choice. One tie-in that came to mind was a Transformers app that simply counted down to the launch date.

So when your CEO or CMO comes to you and says that we need to do “this Facebook thing”, ask yourself whether you fall into any of the above three categories, and what happens if you don’t. The results may surprise you and get you thinking about whether or not this is a space where you want to pay to play.

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