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Using FriendFeed for E-Commerce


The secret sauce of FriendFeed is the development of a trusted network of referrals and commentary by users. People add users to and prune users from their subscriptions based on how well interests align. Once you subscribe to someone, you develop a good feel for their interests and perspectives over time.

This process lowers the barrier to accepting information from someone, as you learn to trust him or her.

In other words, fertile ground for e-commerce.

Seth Godin had a nice post a few months back, The truth about word of mouth. Here’s a quote from that post:

The truth about word of mouth. It’s hard. Sure, it’s hard for you. Your brand doesn’t get as much as you like. But that’s not what I mean. It’s hard for the consumer. A few people like to blab and babble. Most people don’t. They lay low, because they’re afraid or shy or just not used to talking about brands and products or experiences.

Getting people to talk about products they buy is the tough. Yet that kind if information is exactly what most of us are looking for. According to the Keller Fay Group, 80% of us trust recommendations from family, friends and influential persons over all other forms of advertising and marketing.

Think about your own buying decisions. Don’t you love it when you can get a solid recommendation on a product from someone you trust?

This got me wondering…does FriendFeed have an opportunity in the e-commerce space? Not as a direct seller of goods. But as a trusted referral network. With some added features, there’s a nice revenue opportunity riding the rails of the affiliate marketing world. And users would get better info on products.

But first let’s look at a previous effort here, Facebook’s Beacon.

Facebook Beacon: Misfiring on Three Counts

Facebook rolled out Beacon last fall. The idea is that you can broadcast your purchases from online retailers back into the Facebook newsfeed of your friends.

Well, Beacon was excoriated. Two reasons for this:

  1. Beacon’s user control and notification process were terrible
  2. People weren’t sharing a lot of external activity into Facebook, making it seem weird to have that suddenly occur

A third problem with Beacon, even for people that wanted to share product information, was that the product information passed through the newsfeed pretty quickly. If you happened to be interested in the product at that moment, great. But if you were in the market for a given product later, you couldn’t search for information about what your friends bought.

FriendFeed: All About Sharing External Things You Like

FriendFeed’s whole vibe is different from that of Facebook. You’re supposed to bring your outside interests into the site. Commentary and opinion is the order of the day. Interactions revolve around those interests, and accompanying commentary and opinion.

Why not extend that mentality to products that people buy? We already see things with a product orientation coming through FriendFeed:

  • Books: Book recommendations come through via Goodreads. For instance, Here’s a discussion around the book Spook Country. Users will also directly post recommendations, such as this one for Community: the Structure of Belonging.
  • Music: People stream in their Last.fm and Pandora music selections. What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong got a nice discussion going.
  • Movies: We see people’s movie tastes through NetFlix on FriendFeed. Here’s some discussion around the movie Hancock, with Will Smith.
  • Amazon: Amazon wishlists tell the world the things a user wants. Often these are books, music and movies. But a lot of interesting other products come through as well. Here’s a discussion around the Nikon D300 camera.

People are already sharing product-related stuff on FriendFeed. Which has incredibly high potential. Here’s what I mean…

Push vs. Pull Marketing

Louis Gray asked this question recently on FriendFeed:

I’ve seen a lot of stories lately around behavioral targeted advertising, and privacy. But in theory, wouldn’t you rather see more relevant ads? Isn’t this a good thing?

Many of the responses were suspicious of the tracking or didn’t think ads could ever be that relevant. Here are a few responses:

Jill O’Neill: “No. If I need to buy something, I’ll track it down on my own.”

Dobromir Hadzhiev: “I’m with @Jill, nothing beats the research, ads are and always will be annoying.”

Amanda Chapel: “Some of this stuff would make Joe Goebbels blush.”

Bwana McCall: “In my 16 some odd years on the internet, I have to yet to see an ad that I wanted to click on.”

A lot of good opinions, and they bolster the argument that making trusted product recommendations available when someone wants them (“pull marketing”) has advantages over running ads (“push marketing”).

This is why I think sites like FriendFeed, and even Facebook, have enormous potential in the world of e-commerce. They can become the source for getting recommendations and asking questions about products.

What Would FriendFeed Need to Make a Play in E-Commerce?

Say you’re an  expecting first-time parent. You want to buy a crib. Right now, that’d be a little daunting on FriendFeed. Here’s a search for the word ‘crib’. Lots of stuff there, but it’d be tough to use that for making a purchase decision.

Here are some things that would help users find products that their friends have purchased on FriendFeed:

  • An ‘Add to FriendFeed’ button at the checkout of e-tailer sites
  • A special designation of these streams from e-tailers as ‘PRODUCT’
  • The ability for users to hide all feeds with the designation ‘PRODUCT’
  • A tab on FriendFeed set up specifically for all feeds designated ‘PRODUCT’
  • Search of all ‘PRODUCT’ feeds
  • The ability to click a link on the product name, and be taken directly to that product on the e-tailer’s website

Once a user lands on the e-tailer’s site from FriendFeed, FriendFeed gets a cut of any purchases by that user, a la standard affiliate marketing agreements.

Users would get a much better way to find products they want. Just like the blog posts and articles that stream through, each person would likely specialize in product categories that fit their interests and knowledge. You would come to trust the recommendations of different users for different product categories. You’d have the person who knows cameras. Who knows home decor. Home entertainment systems. Running gear. Toddlers’ toys. Womens’ shoes. Flowers. Etc…

What do you think? Would you use such a system? I would.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Using+FriendFeed+for+E-Commerce%22&public=1

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About Hutch Carpenter
Senior Consultant for HYPE Innovation (hypeinnovation.com)

10 Responses to Using FriendFeed for E-Commerce

  1. markdykeman says:

    A couple of things to consider:

    1) Just because something appears in my lifestream doesn’t mean that I’ll still be happy with it one day, one week, one month, or one year later.

    2) Wouldn’t a written review, even a short one, have a bit more meaning than a notification of a purchase?

    You’ve got the seeds of an interesting idea, though.

  2. This is a really good piece for dialog. Keep ‘em comin’ Hutch. Passing this to someone that needs it :)

  3. Hutch, this is a good read and I wanted to point out that this approach is already what makes Yokway a great service for recommending products and, at the same time, a very good source of information when looking for something to buy.

    Our semantic framework already allows for searching items by type, be it music, books, movies and more, and combined with keyword search, this makes for a very powerful personal recommendation service, and a natural place for developing e-commerce transactions based on pull-marketing models that you describe.

  4. andymurd says:

    I know a lot of people worry about FriendFeed becoming contaminated with spam, but your ideas make good sense.

    Maybe if there were a service like Yelp but for product reviews, that would be appropriate for FriendFeed to import. I wonder if Amazon reviews would be a useful service.

  5. Mark – the commenting feature would be an important part of this. You can post a question someone about their experience with the product, right on the original product entry.

    The interaction with an actual user would be a great complement to a written review.

  6. Thanks Charlie.

  7. Thanks Stephan – I will check out Yokway.

  8. Andy – good idea re: Amazon reviews. Those should be importable as well.

    As for spam, I’d mark these things as PRODUCT, and FriendFeed users could hide them from their main feed.

  9. Pingback: Web 2.0 for self-branding |Caribbean Derby

  10. AJ Kohn says:

    I like the idea of eCommerce in FriendFeed. I can certainly see the inclusion of a ‘buy’ link next to items that are products.

    How FF determines what is product and what is not could be a bit tricky, but as you’ve mentioned, books, music and movies seem easy based on the source of the feed.

    From a ‘buy’ link it would be nice to have a menu of options, though for FF it might be an easy test to simply try it with Amazon first and expand to other eTailers if the pilot works.

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