The future of eCommerce, as far as my imagination goes, is not Amazon, Flipkart or any other online stores we indulge in today but is in small targeted blogs and store fronts.
All these mega online stores offer so many things for sale that they can't meaningfully promote or suggest any of their products to their customers. They are like a warehouse on sale. Chaotic, overwhelming and eventually only good for binge shopping!
Don't see the problem yet? Let me explain! Imagine a blog that recommends the best products for a purpose to a particular demographic and then makes it possible to purchase the same at the best price on the web. For example, imagine a blog that specializes in piecing together an office attire for women in their thirties or a blog that recommends the best gadgets for smart home enthusiasts, etc. Compare that to a big grid of thumbnails with prices on Amazon. You may have thousands to choose from but in the end the very choice leaves you confused.
Such blogs can not only create the desire to own and use / flaunt something - holy grail of retail - but can also eliminate choice anxiety - the burden of choosing from a sea of undifferentiated products. Its like affiliate marketing on steroids where the big portals confine themselves to inventory, transaction and logistics management and leave the point of sale to third parties.
This way the bloggers / storefronts can concentrate on sales and make money from every purchase (commission) and referral (CPC) they generate while the big brother makes better margins on his inventory without having to offer huge discounts to generate sales.
The way I see it, the World Wide Web is stuck with 'Search'! Yes, I understand the utility and ingenuity in being able to find the stuff we want but the Web has more to offer than that. I believe, the Web is as much about introducing us to new things that never crossed our minds as about providing the information we seek and we cannot search the Web for stuff we are not yet aware of! Even the original idea of content linking to other content (hyperlinks) only goes so far as content creators cannot link their content to stuff they are not (yet) aware of!
Off late, social feedback and curation have become a formidable force on the Web but we only come across what our peers find interesting and relevant there by limiting our field of vision to that of our friends / curators. It more or less boils down to a push-pull model where creators / curators push the stuff somewhere and seekers pull it from there with some form of voting / propagation mechanism in between.
Can we do away with all the explicit social curation mechanisms and create a smart service that can act as a personalized navigation system for the Web? I believe we can as we have already built something similar for Talkonomy. We call it the 'Navigator' (Suggestions shown on the right!) and it helps people navigate and explore Talkonomy! And the best part is this technology can be extended to the whole Web if desired!
Many attribute the success of various Web 2.0 services to 'Network Effect', which says that the more the participants on a platform the more attractive and rewarding it is for new comers and bystanders to jump in. While 'Network Effect' can explain their growth, it boils down to an intractable 'Chicken and Egg Situation' in the very early days of these services. How will a service grow from 0 to its first 100 participants or so, if every other prospective user is looking for a critical level of activity and population to come aboard? There must be something else at work all through the life of a successful service!
In my opinion 'Circular Inspiration' is the missing piece of this puzzle and services such as Facebook, Instagram, Quora, etc. depend on it to achieve critical mass and growth. If we take the case of Instagram, one user's creativity and pictures inspire another user to get creative and share his own pictures which further inspire the first user to get more creative and share even more pictures. We can see how inspiration travels back and forth in circles fueling activity, the life blood of any service . Even though this phenomenon grows stronger with the number of participants, it requires only two people to start the whole rendezvous. Its not hard to imagine how the same phenomenon is at work on many other services and platforms.
Recently, I was browsing through my music library (mp3s) and found that many songs I ripped / digitized long back (from CDs and tape) were either corrupt or were of inferior quality than those available through iTunes, etc. today. Legally I own that music but have no way of refreshing my library to a better quality available elsewhere.
It then suddenly occurred to me that why can't there be a service where I can upload my music and download alternative / better versions of the same from it. Technically and legally I am only swapping my music and not downloading anything that I do not already own. The service just stores and identifies the music me and others upload and allows us to download alternative versions of the music we already own.
The service can also remember the music I own and upload so that I can download better / alternate versions of the same as and when they are made available by other members of the community. FLAC fans will love this!!!
A Legal Web 2.0 Music Swapping / Library Service! Sounds feasible :-)
Inability to follow your favorite topics sans others from your favorite sources seems to be a fatal deficiency in the web ecosystem! Yes there is Twitter, but Twitter only lets you follow a source ( person / group / entity ) in toto and not selectively.
Let me elaborate! Imagine you like the way Frank (an imaginary person) relates to 'Politics' but don't care about his numerous rants about 'Technology', 'Sports', etc. Now, ideally you should be able to follow #politics from @frank i.e. politics@frank or frank@politics, which ever sounds more idiomatic, but such an option doesn't yet exist on any web-service / web.
The closest thing you can get to this pattern is when Frank writes a blog and categorizes / tags his posts with a provision to subscribe to the RSS feeds of those categories / tags. Many blogging solutions offer such RSS feeds and one can easily subscribe to such feeds from his favorite reader.
However, if you didn't follow the scheme detailed in the previous paragraph, don't be intimidated! You are not alone! It may be a cakewalk for the web savvy but not for the rest of us humble folks on the web.
Why not emphasize categories / tags everywhere on the web and put a simple 'Follow' button on each one of them? This way we can follow what we love more selectively and reduce the information load on us! :-)