If we were on a date, Groupon would be asking all the questions and I’d be playing the strong, silent type.
Group likes me – a lot. Or so I assume. Because Groupon actually wants to know an awful lot about me. And I’m not so sure I want them to know that much about me … even if she has that amazing blond hair.
I like social, and I like what Facebook is doing in terms of instant personalization with sites like TripAdvisor. But I don’t necessary want people, groups, or companies crawling up in my bed and sleeping there. Or setting my alarm. Or phoning my friends just to chat.
Groupon wants the following permissions to sign in with my Facebook account:
Access my basic information
(This is a LOT more than most people who read “basic” might think.)
Send me email
Post to my wall
(Post what, specifically? When? About what?)
Access my data anytime
(Not just when I’m using the service.)
Ready my check-ins
(So Groupon knows where I am.)
Access my profile information
(Maybe Groupon wants to give me a birthday present?)
This is a problem with a lot of companies that want to get social … really social. The problem is that the more permissions a company asks for, the fewer the number of people who will say yes. I might be batting for first base, but they’re trying to hit a home run.
Coupons are OK. I mean, everyone likes saving money. And group deals are cool … if we can all save money together, isn’t everyone a little happier?
But with all the hype, let’s remember a few important things:
Coupons are a feature
First of all, from a business (and technology) point of view, coupons are a feature, not a platform. Meaning they need to hook into an existing engine.
The genius of Groupon (and the genius of the entire RESTful, API-centric, connected web2.0-3.0 world) is that they connected with the Facebook platform to drive unprecedented growth. Look for that to get a little harder if they’re owned by Facebook’s arch-rival Google in the future.
But the point is: it’s not the whole enchilada. It’s a piece of the pie (so if you’re going to do coupons, you better have a pie, not just a cherry).
Coupons aren’t for everyone
Having mixed metaphors fearlessly up to this point, let’s just say this: Coupon Ron is not your preferred client. While there’s no doubt that coupons are a great marketing move for some businesses, you are not going to drive long-term profitable growth based on couponing.
By definition, Coupon Ron is fickle … he’ll go to whoever has the latest coupon. That means he’s used to getting a discount. If you’re not giving him one, he’s probably not shopping/eating/consuming/buying your services or products. And that means he’s a low-margin client.
In other words, coupons are not the playing card that a merchant who’s dealing from a position of strength throws down.
So … coupons are great and cool, but there’s a LOT more to commerce, e-commerce, local commerce, social commerce, and any other form of commerce.
And that’s something we’d all do well to remember when the tulip bulb craziness hits.
Note: this post is part of a series … Part one | Part two | Part threepost last week on the future of connectors (companies that connect buyers and sellers), I looked at what connectors are, what they do, and the key ones online.
But the question remains: what’s the future of commerce online?
I ended last post with 3 givens:
Location awareness is only going to grow
Social connectivity is not going to decrease
Mobile devices are going to get smarter/better/faster
It’s all linked in some way
One way of looking at the new web, next web, web2.0, or even web 1.0 is via links. Not just web links (Google) but also people links (Facebook) … and people to thing links (Facebook likes/recommends), and interest links (Twitter). A nouveau chic term for this is graph …
Google owns the intentional graph (what do people want)
Facebook owns the social graph (who do people know/like)
Twitter owns the interest graph (what are people interested in)
Let’s get a little more speculative and even more out on a limb with our reckless use of the word “own” and say that Groupon owns the deal graph (or wants to, or will, or part of it).
But the deals and purchases graph is a much more fragmented reality. Amazon owns a big chunk of it. eBay and especially Paypal know a lot about what people buy. Deal sites abound, and Groupon clone-pons are a dime-a-dozen. Craigslist could potentially know a lot about what people buy and who they buy from, except that the ethos of the site is aggressively low-tech, low-friction, low-customization, and low, well, everything (cost, data, you name it).
One ring to rule them all
An obvious answer for the uber-connector to come in and sweep the stage clean of all current competition is a connector that utilizes aspects of all the graphs. A connector that brings all the links together.
Something, for instance, that:
knows what you search for (and want)
knows what your interests are …
knows your friends (and what they own, search for, and are interested in)
AND also knows if not everything at least an awful lot about the digital world:
which products are available where and for what prices
where to find and how to obtain services
AND can present them to you intelligently, in an organized way, at the right time, and fairly efficiently … OR, with your pre-determined permission make buying decisions, negotiate with service suppliers and product sellers …
… would be an unbelievable connector between buyers and sellers, and would be immensely valuable.
As I said, that’s the obvious answer. And guess what, in the 70s and 90s a lot of energy went into thinking about and trying to create software agents, who could do all the tedious painful stuff for you that you don’t want to.
After all, who really wants to check 50 airline sites (or Expedia or Kayak) for the best price for airline tickets. All you really want to do is tell someone (or a system): I want to go from here to there at this time for about this price or cheaper … and have the someone/system go do it.
Essentially, this is AI – artificial intelligence. At least at some level. And Skynet’s got bigger things on its mind.
Agents on the move
The 00’s and 10’s version of agents, of course, is apps. This is precisely the vision behind Siri on the iPhone (check Scoble’s interview if you don’t live in the US and can’t download this app for your phone.)
Siri is a personal assistant that can do mundane (and non-so-mundane) activities for you. But Siri is also a connector that will get you what you want … and collect a small fee from the service providers.
The next web
Siri is a clue to the next web. Because let’s face it: just because we can search search search on Google doesn’t make everything perfect.
Searching Google happens to be easier than the meatspace analogue of going to a library, finding a book, reading the book, finding another, reading the other, getting your data, going home, and continuing your life.
Yeah, it’s easier. But is it easy? Double-plus-no-no-no.
Directed search for in-depth tasks where the master intent is more complex than “what is the capital of Kenya” is hard. Just one example: what TV should I buy. The answer to that question is a non-obvious goal which is better answered by some kind of expert system than a traditional search engine.
Google knows this … and that’s why Google is changing.
Google’s mission may be to organize the world’s information … but in 5 years, Google will not be a search engine.