by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume X, No. I

This Week's Clue: The State of Play in a Nutshell

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This Week's Clue: The State of Play in a Nutshell
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
Best of the Week
Voic.us
ZDNet Open Source
Clued-in, Clueless
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For the Week of January 2, 2006

Those of you who are left with a-clue (and your numbers have been dwindling, as letters like this are replaced by blogs) may remember that my original charter was e-commerce, and that I was to tell you who was Clued-in and Clueless in that area.

Well, there is no such thing as ecommerce anymore. There is only commerce.

And despite a decade of the Web, the state of play is still, on the whole, primitive.

If the Internet were a shopping mall, it would be a strip center along a highway. There are some big places - Amazon, eBay - which know their customers and serve them daily. There are those few which have adopted successfully to the new medium - BestBuy, Cook's Illustrated, Consumer Reports - by delivering some Unique Selling Proposition online the same way they do it offline.

Then there are the failures, the Web stores. There's a lot of underutilized real estate in this mall of the future.

The fact is Internet Commerce isn't about Web stores. To say it is is to assume that all there is to shopping is the cash register.

I am sad to say that the vast majority of the Web sites I see for real businesses in my area are still little more than billboards. The restaurants may feature menus, but that's about the end of it. (Web design is now just part of the package that restaurant consultants sell.) Instead commerce is carried on by consumers - Craigslist and its imitators. These represent a search for intimacy that the sales side of the equation simply isn't meeting.

The fact is that most businesses don't think about their marketing or their unique selling propositions. Most are attached to chains or to franchises. They follow plans drawn up by clueless b-school taught "experts" who only see the mass, not the day-to-day grind of business on the ground.

It takes time for someone to study a business standing against the chains, and figure out what it's doing right. It takes time the business owner doesn't have to explain to them what they already know. The challenge then is to forge an online plan that delivers these values at a price the merchant can afford, and what most people who've tried this have found out is that there isn't enough money in the business to justify all that labor.

That's not to say big business is doing any better. They've gotten good at building CRM systems, but what do they do with all the data? The stores are still laid-out cookie-cutter fashion, and change takes place in the same way it did before the data flooded in. The extra expense of violating folks' privacy is a waste of time and effort.

So here's where we stand as 2006 opens:

  1. Big businesses have data but don't know what to do with it, because they haven't adopted customization.
  2. Small businesses customize but don't have any Web presence, because they think of it as a Web presence and Web presence means billboard, cash register, competing directly against the big boys.
  3. Customers are rolling their own solutions in Web 2.0 start-ups that are really, when you get right down to it, online dating services with an equal hit-or-miss record.

Breaking through all this requires boots on the ground, but those boots must be funded. There must be a way to compensate all the boots we have on the online ground for their efforts, in proportion to the success they're achieving in building and forging relationships.

That's the challenge for 2006, in a nutshell.

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Shameless Self-Promotion

I've got a new job. I'm now editor of Atlanta voic.us, a Web start-up aimed at building a community Web platform with a real business model. I'm also all alone in writing the Open Source Blog for ZDNet. (When this started there were three of us.)

My last non-fiction book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards. Write me for a PDF copy of my latest novel, "Baptists are for Dunking."

On my Mooreslore blog I've written a new novel, "The Chinese Century." It's a story told in real-time, with real characters, but entirely fictional, dealing with the consequences of the falling dollar. I'm beginning a sequal, "American Diaspora," exploring the themes of the first book but with more fictional characters. It's a true alternate history, but set in the present day.

You are encouraged to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know. Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...

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Best of the Week

Family Fun, For Christmas

It's actually the beta test for something called MyHeritage.

Melinda

Melinda Gates is more than worthy. She gave humanity to a man who needed it desperately. And in turn she is shaming the rest of us into action (well, those of us with hearts and brains).

The Social Generation

A posting from Bernie Goldbach in Ireland helped remind me of just how much progress we've seen in the last decade. The best way to see it is through the eyes of people who are growing up.

Web Bloatware

Bloatware wastes time without providing value. And it's creeping into the Web again.

Sun COO Endorses Intel

Not literally. Nowhere in this blog item does Sun COO Jonathan Schwartz even mention Intel.

Law & Order Twist in Blackberry Case

Derek at TechDirt reported yesterday that, just as patent claimant NTP was about to turn off Blackberry service in order to enforce its rights, those patents are about to be tossed by the Patent Office.

The CES Hype Machine Tunes Up

CES long-ago replaced Comdex as the technology industry's premier trade show.Somewhere between the Internet and the iPod, computing bifurcated into a gadget market, which is CES' bailiwick, and a server market, which doesn't need the trade show hassle.

The eBay Myth

The eBay Myth is that you are somehow safe there.

Time Warner Dips into the Funny Money Again

This time it's Google, which has promised to rescue Time Warner's AOL investment by valuing the failing online service at $20 billion.

The Terrorists Won

When you're terrorized, the terrorists have won. And Americans remain terrorized.

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Voic.Us

Atlanta Does It Chicago Style

Bigger Dick's Than Galyan's

52 Stories of Condo

Blankity Blank Blank Newspaper

What the Voter ID Law Really Does

Incest the Musical

Our Huge Jail is Too Small

Thacker in Corruption Hot Water

Are College Graduates Functionally Literate?

Why is it So Cold?

War on Christmas Profitable

White Wolf Defies Extortion Racket

ZDNet Open Source

Google in the Garden of Good and Evil

An Open Source Christmas Present

The Service Era

Our First Goal for '06, Out With the Lawyers

The Heart of the Open Source Contract

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Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is 2006.

Clueless is 2005.

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