Leveraging the long tail with eBay

Leveraging the long tail is about exactly that, using the extreme popularity of generic products available on the internet that sell in high volume and levering that strength to expose more specific niche products that do not sell nearly as well with only limited popularity. The beauty of the “long tail” is that there are  a lot of these niche products – in fact they make up the majority of shop fronts on the internet.

Leveraging the long tail

Chris Anderson’s economic model of the Long Tail discusses the now diminished need “to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers”. With now infinite shelf space, low cost of materials and production courtesy of the internet, businesses are realising it’s simply a matter of exposure. So, how best do you leverage off the popularity of the best selling products on the internet? How are businesses able to sell their niche products that suit only very limited clientele and stay afloat? Remain profitable?

Tim O’Reilly outlines the best practices for leveraging the long tail in his seventh web 2.0 pattern, and this week I will examine eBay, the most popular online retailer in Australia an excellent example of these in effect.

ebay

Build on the driving forces of the Long Tail

eBay allows its users to list almost anything for sale relatively cheaply and with a minimum of fuss. It caters for almost any item allowing listings limited only by the imagination of its users facilitating an almost innumerable product base. Customers are drawn to eBay by cheap prices, the chance to win at auction or buy outright and possibly, most enticingly,  by the possibility of finding that item that they just cannot find anywhere else. eBay delivers hits to niches by first drawing in clientele with extremely competitive pricing for popular, generic products then offering then facilitates niche sales by custom tailoring searches for maximum exposure.

Use algorithmic data management to match supply and demand

Whenever an item is bought, whether is is via an auction, fixed price or classified sale, eBay displays similar items for the buyers perusal. When a buyer is searching for an item that is possibly generic in nature and arrives at a specific sellers page eBay displays all other items available by that seller. A user could be lead down a very niche path from seller to similar items (and repeat) until the ideal item is found. It is possible for a user to search for an item only once, then 10 sellers and different stores later – eBay delivers the final desired result specifically tailoring the list of item results to the user at every stage.

ebaystore

Use an architecture of participation to match supply and demand

eBay offers a feedback system where sellers can be ranked based on their past performance and quality of their items which allows buyers to always make informed decisions and purchase with confidence. When a search is carried out items are listed in an order of relevance to the search term by default so ideally the user receives the best matching item as the first result. In addition the results may be further sorted by the user selecting a relevant filter such as (lowest price first). If eBay does cannot return the exact item the user searches for it returns similar items in order of relevance.

Leverage customer self-service to cost effectively reach the entire web

eBay affords the user complete control of their accounts. User are able to list an item for sale on eBay in a matter of minutes (or seconds with the right app) through not only the website it self but also through many third party applications and the mobile apps. Users are able to purchase items, pay for items, and record feedback all from their very own account centre with the knowledge that eBay guarantees safety through PayPal where money can be refunded if a seller is fraudulent. The live chat support feature, extensive support articles, customisable user portals, and readily available API for developers contribute to reduced costs of operation.

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Leverage the low-cost advantages of being online

The filtering, aggregation and search features offered by eBay for its 112.3 million users in conjunction with the self service model it is based on ensures that it reaches to the very edges of the spectrum of user interests and is coded appropriately to be effectively integrated into external searches. Indeed, it is so good that an item typed into a Google search box can yield a relevant result from eBay. Further, eBays involvement with extensive partner organisations ensures that advertising and marketing costs are kept to a minimum.

Further Reading:

Debating the long tail

Long Tail 101

Rethinking the Long Tail Theory: How to define ‘Hits’ and ‘Niches’

What does niche marketing mean?

Perpetual Beta – Development 2.0

This week I examine Tim O’Reilly’s 6th Web 2.0 pattern: Perpetual Beta and it’s corresponding best practices as harnessed by the social networking giant Facebook.

Software being in a state of perpetual beta means simply that it is is constantly evolving, constantly being shaped and crafted right in front of the eyes of its users. Software must be forever changing to remain a competitive commodity in the current era. Users no longer see software being “under construction” as something they have to wait out; an inconvenience. Rather, it is instant exposure to new developments, ideas and features for which they can provide instant feedback and rest assured that the developers are listening.

Perpetual BETA

Development 2.0 allows users to shape software with developers permanently implementing new concepts that rate highly  and those that rate poorly quickly disappearing from view.  Users must be treated as co-developers  the software release cycle is no longer about versions, it has become versionless – does anyone really know what version of Facebook they are using?  New features are integrated seamlessly and service remains uninterrupted. This is possible due to software moving away from an install once, wait, download update, install again cycle to an always on, always connected, Software as a Service.  O’Reilly states that “so fundamental is the shift from software as artifact to software as service that the software will cease to perform unless it is maintained on a daily basis.”  There is no down time, if you are not using your favorite web app someone else is and it is the opinions of these very users that dictates what is developed and when.

facebook

Facebook, like Google, exist among the pioneers of perpetual beta and adopt the best practices in textbook like fashion.

(1) Release early and release often

Facebook are masters in this realm, the introduction of timeline, chat and different layout format are classic examples of releasing early so that user feedback can be obtained and utilised to gauge interest in, and reception of, the new features it plans to introduce. If a feature is popular it is often quickly integrated and tailored around user feedback.

(2) Engage users as co-developers and real-time testers

Another advantage of releasing early and allowing users to trial new features well before a planned integration date is the fact that any bugs, whether they be logical or technical in nature, are likely to be uncovered by early adopters. This also allows Facebook to monitor user behavior and make well informed decisions regarding the way it rolls out the new features and what user demographic receives them first. “Timeline” is a classic feature that was made available to users as an optional update on September 29 2011, and after an overwhelming positive response eventually became a non-negotiable part of Facebook for all users.

(3) Instrument your product

It is absolutely essential to establish a framework for measuring success and implement metrics that provide an accurate snapshot based on this framework. Facebook features are meticulously monitored throughout different stages of implementation. Data gathered from user participation in varying areas is referenced against business objectives to further aid in successful feature implementation.

(4) Incrementally create new products

Facebook is constantly releasing new products and additions and manages strategic decisions through this, moving with technology in response to competition and to flat out user demand . Releasing a stand alone chat application for mobile devices competing with the likes of MSN and simultaneously recognizing the high demand for its chat feature is testament to such strategy.

(5) Make operations a core competency

Facebook realises that the people they employ are paramount to its continued success. They capture this perfectly by stating “We don’t have rules, we have values, focus on impact, move fast, be bold, be open, build social value”. Second to none systems monitoring, built in redundancies, state of the art hardware,  simplified fault tolerance, and razor sharp execution of all is the technology through which it empowers.

(6) Use dynamic tools and languages

Through utilising cutting edge agile development models Facebook is able to offer industry leading technology at all levels  including:

Front end: LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP); Back end: C++, Python, Java, Erlang

In addition to this Facebook offers an impressive array of open source developments.

facebook2

Further Reading:

Version-Less Development: What is it and Why it’s Important

How Does Facebook Work? The Nuts and Bolts [Technology Explained]

Will product innovation win it for Facebook?

Careers at Facebook

Ubiquitous Computing: Software above the level of a single device.

This week we discuss Tim O’Reilly’s fifth web 2.0 pattern: Software above the level of a single device. 

We are a world that is fast evolving towards being totally digitally connected. With the adoption of IPv6 the number of devices that can connect to the internet simultaniously increases almost innumerably to 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456. O’Reillys fifth pattern discusses best practices for harnessing the technolgical breakthroughs of our time to develop software that connects to the internet seemlessly over multiple devices.

youtube

Youtube is web 2.0 that is so popular it is almost synonymous with the word “Internet”. Since it’s inception in Feb 2005 YouTube has been about video content that is for the people, by the people, so it is not at all surprising that its developers are well aware of the importance of software above the level of a single device. The reality is that content wise YouTube can be used as a legitimate resource for almost every facet of our lives – work, play, health, education and relationships. So, it makes sense that YouTube has evolved from offering access in the form of a centralised website to being as adaptable to our new technology as we are, offering apps for almost every platform. Let’s look at how YouTube adheres to to O’Reiley’s best practices.

youtube2

Design from the start to share data across devices, servers, and networks

From the outset YouTube has strived to offer content accessibility through  providing HTML code along with its videos to enable easy embedding on any web page.

More recently:

One click sharing to almost all social networking platforms including facebook, twitter and google+, which expands on and compliments YouTube’s own ranking and commenting system.

  • YouTube Mobile – launched in 2007 for smartphones utilising RTSP streaming for video, was then relaunched in 2010 using HTML 5 eliminating the need to use the slower adobe flash player and optimising controls for touch screen.
  • June 2007 – Transcoded data to H.264 format in order to achieve compatibility with Apple iPhone, iPod touch and Apple TV
  • 2008 – 2009 – Youtube realises more of its users are accessing from set top boxes and full size screens so releases YouTube For TV and then later YouTubeXL
  • Available as a stand alone app for Apple iOS 5 / iOS 6 since September 2012 when it was dropped as a preloaded app.
  • Tailored applictions  for Playstation 3, Tivo, Xbox live, & Wii

Since day one it is very obvious that YouTube has had its finger on the pulse of its users viewing trends and has attempted to harness the latest technology to make data more available & accessible to users.

youtube4

Extend Web 2.0 to devices

YouTube offers applictions for almost all of the popular devices including iOS, Android, Xbox Live / 360, Playstation 3, Wii & Tivo and comes pre-packaged in the proprietry software of many smart TV’s, media streaming & cable provider boxes.

Use the power of the network to make the edge smarter

YouTube is able to tailer the viewing experience to your device through smart optimisation of the video bitrate, file format and clientside code to ensure compatibility with multiple devices usually via an app. A good example here is YouTube automatically rendering videos in much lesser resolution for smartphones, dramatically lessening the amount of data that needs to be transferred.


Leverage devices as data and rich media sources

Many smartphones and video cameras have the ability to shoot video and upload directly to YouTube through the relevant application as long as they have access to the internet.

Make one-click peer-production a priority

Almost all devices that have the ability to shoot video and connect to the internet can upload to YouTube in a single click. Often this will occur through utilising third party software and not necessarily an official YouTube app.

youtube3

Further Reading:

Learn all about YouTube via Wikipedia

Apple drops the YouTube app in iOS 6 

Evolution of YouTube : Beginning of age of personal media

How to share, embed and link YouTube videos

O’Reilly’s 5th Pattern: Software above the level of a single device

Rich User Experience: Pixlr.com

This week I examine Tim O’Reilly’s fourth Web 2.0 pattern: Rich User Experience.  So firstly, what is a “Rich user experience”? I think James Ward explains it better than most in saying it is a “more natural – more connected, more alive, more interactive, and more responsive” user experience.

It was not long ago that in order to enjoy a graphically intensive, immediately responsive experience when connecting with the internet a user would have to install a heavy and often very large desktop application and point it in the direction of the corresponding internet server.  This desktop interface model was utilised so that most of the complex processing involving large amounts of data could be carried out at the client end and not take up precious band width.

Today, with faster, higher bandwidth internet connections, more intelligent and sophisticated programming techniques such as AJAX and HTML5, and global user demand for a truly ubiquitous internet experience we have dispensed with the data laden client side application and moved completely to an online interface.  Rich Internet Applications or (RIA’s) are the web applications designed to give users desktop like functionality through a web browser and are the same applications that make the Rich User Experience possible.

Since the dawn of desktop computer time graphics manipulation has been heavy on resources, so, how about a paint/photoshop style Rich User Experience?

pixlr

Enter Pixlr.com. 

Pixlr.com can be accessed from your web browser and is compatible with all of the popular varieties. Pixlr offers a fully functional picture editor that looks very much like a cross between Photoshop and Paint at a glance. Cut down varieties of the editor are also available from the main page for simple photo effects. So lets look at how it stacks up against the best practices for a Rich User Experience.

The Pixlr Editor:

pixlr editor

Combine the best of desktop & online experiences 

One of the best features of Pixlr is the fact that it feels like you are using a desktop application, and that is exactly how you want a photo editing suite to feel. It responds instantly and provides all the tools you are used to. There is seamless integration with both online and desktop based images as well as webcam, smartphone, and devices using both iOS and Android operating systems.

Usability and simplicity first

You don’t have to learn to use Pixlr, it is actually intuitive in it’s design and follows established convention for photo editing tools. It is essentially minimalist in design without flashy ‘additions’ that some other sites offer, this is a good thing. The options that are presented on the home page: Open Pixlr Editor (Advanced), Open Pixlr Express (Efficient), and Open Pixlr-o-matic (Playfull), quickly dispense with the need to annoy the user with superfluous information or features. If you aren’t familiar with exactly how Pixlr works it is designed to be intuitive enough to give it away for most users. Almost unbelievably, no registration required! Dive straight in!

Match the technology usage to the requirements

Pixlr.com harnesses technology well, in that it matches it to its user requirements. Through utilising predominately Flash, Javascript, HTML, & JQuery Pixlr delivers a photo editor that responds instantly and is truly ubiquitous in nature (smartphone, online, iOS, Android). Some might say the technology is lackluster or underwhelming, I say the fact that it intuitively delivers on what it promises to it’s target audience every time makes it smart technology usage.

Preserve content addressability

Pixlr delivers again here, providing desktop features within its environment including undo, redo and save. The user is always in control of the data they are manipulating and seamless integration with Facebook and other online libraries ensures pictures can be accessed, saved & restored from anywhere.

Deep, adaptive personalization

The thing I appreciate most about Pixlr is the fact that it is no nonsense and delivers exactly what is promises to its users. Pixlr does not ask for a registration, nor a login like almost every other site does and I found this refreshing. I think Pixlr has an excellent idea of what the average user in their target audience expects, and delivers a catered solution for that expectation. It has effectively pre-personalised the website around its target audience.

References:

http://www.jamesward.com/2007/10/17/what-is-a-rich-internet-application/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTML_5

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ajax_(programming)

http://searchsoa.techtarget.com/definition/Rich-Internet-Application-RIA

http://w3techs.com/sites/info/pixlr.com