Archive for September, 2010

How much information would you share with a retailer?

I recently decided to join a social website called Hunch, after reading an article in Wired magazine.  Hunch provide a range of recommendations for products to its members.  Established retailers such as Amazon base their recommendations on purchase history. Hunch aims to get more accurate recommendations, by inviting its members to share information about themselves by asking lots of questions up-front.

During the registration process, I was asked an initial 20 questions that were somewhere between performing a psychometric test and playing “truth” game at party.  Questions included: “Which of these pictures do you find attractive?, Do your prefer cats or dogs, Do you have coffee black or white?”.   I followed up with a further 50 questions on specific topics, such as favourite books, cultural interests and technology.

After each set of questions, I checked the recommendations provided.  The results were quite interesting.  Hunch did guess my favourite drink and movies, but missed widely on my favourite books. The most amusing moment, was a question on whether Bugs Bunny was “1.Straight, 2.Gay, 3. Gay, but doesn’t know it”. 

I was concerned about answering so many personal questions and the experience has left me with mixed feelings towards Bugs Bunny.  However, I haven’t received a torrent of spam or acquired an internet stalker…   Can you really get people to share large amounts of personal information, just by making it fun?

The next question is what would retailers do with such a rich set of customer information provided voluntarily?  Can they be trusted not to share it with third parties?

Google Instant Search – catering for ever shorter attention spans

Google recently unveiled Instant Search to its online users.   This provides search results to customers ‘instantly’ as they type in search terms, without the need to submit the search.   Instant Search appears to be the next stage in quick search experience, after ‘auto-complete’ search criteria. 

We know that customers have become increasingly impatient with ever increasing broadband internet speeds.  Instant Search is certainly a good way to hold ever short attention spans.  Although it is too early to tell how customers will respond to this. 

It is interesting to see how Google is phasing in this feature, apparently it is not available everywhere.  It depends on which browser and country you are living in.  Perhaps this feature is being ‘dark launched’ in each location without the usual formalities of announcement and worldwide presence.

Another question is whether Microsoft’s Bing be able to keep up with this development.    Clearly this capability is placing a massive load on Google as serving up all this additional information requires processing power and bandwidth.

Instant Search may mean that Retailers may need to adjust their Search Engine Optimisation strategies, providing shorter site summaries for rapid consumption by customers.  Retailers may also need to raise the bar for Site Search on their own websites.   Will retailers be able to adopt InstantSearch–style capabilities for their own sites?

Life After Facebook?

As Groucho Marx once said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member”

I recently set myself up with an account on Facebook, having previously restricted my activities to work-orientated sites, such as LinkedIn.  I had followed social networking from the sidelines until this point.  However, I have been very aware of how social networking has profoundly changed the way that we interact on the web.  I decided it was time to try it out for myself.

I have watched Facebook’s meteoric rise over recent years. During that time it has seen off competitors such as Bebo, MySpace and FriendsReunited and managed to find its own distinct niche alongside Twitter.  The speed at which Facebook  has achieved market dominance in social networking is even faster than Google managed to dominate internet search.

Having joined the social networking movement quite late, I decided on a “total immersion” approach and visited several other social websites to experience the breadth of options available.  I was also keen to get a sense of what might be coming next.

New social websites are constantly springing up based upon interesting ideas.  I have seen specialists, such as the location-based, FourSquare, the questionnaire-based Hunch and even open-source rivals such as Diaspora.  It will be interesting to see if any of these can these seriously challenge Facebook.  However, perhaps the biggest enemy of Facebook – is itself.

Facebook could begin suffer as it travels through the adoption curve, moving from being a new idea to part of the Establishment.  In time-honoured fashion, the young people tend to leave when their parents (and grandparents) are joining the same website.  There is evidence that young people are leaving Facebook and their fastest growing demographic is now the over 55s.  There is a serious problem that Facebook could become ‘un-cool’ for the new generation over the next few years.

Even if this does not happen, we are likely to see a gradual splintering of social networking.  This happens in many new markets as they mature and develop new business models.  It is difficult for Facebook to remain “all things, to all people” under such pressure.  We could see the generalists rivals take back market share, while other members defect to niche players with specific communities.  Perhaps the biggest indicator that Facebook is on the wane is that ‘late-adopters’ like myself are now joining.

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