Note: In the event of any unfamiliar terms double click the word and a definition will appear in the answer.com "bubble"-yet another example of Web 2.0 functionality discussed below and a core principle behind our new blog!
How is the Shoppers Map blog related to the shopping maps we’ve seen distributed throughout Southern California?
Shoppers Map is owned and operated by Chris Reece, a third generation antique expert who has been aggregating the small business interests of shop owners and dealers via distribution of locale specific maps highlighting only shops in the vintage, antique and consignment genres.
The new Shoppers Map blog is a replacement of the static website previously supplementing the; printed maps. It is a joint venture between Chris and Richard “Dick Deluxe” Egner, a long time technology entrepreneur previously located in Silicon Valley.
Why a blog and not a website?
The new Shoppers Map blog is a result of the evolution of the internet into the “web services” era and is commonly referred to as “web 2.0”. This is such a pivotal shift in digital potential that there is a new round of investment excitement in Silicon Valley despite a generally poor economy and uncertain times politically.
In a nutshell this is the first real opportunity for affinity groups of small businesses to have the opportunity to effectively market their products and services to a virtually unlimited audience.
The following is a list of key terms and concepts that drive this revolution described in laymen’s terms as much as possible. The key concept to keep in mind is that the deflationary aspects of the computer industry are now impacting-in a very positive way-the marketing costs and potential reach of individual business.
How is “web 2.0” different from the regular web that we have our website on-are they in the same place?
The internet is the ever evolving network of computers that has become the epicenter of modern life. The term “web 2.0” signals the shift to a web services model and away from the previous model in which most businesses and users were responsible for the creation and storage of their data.
For example, most users have a copy of Office for doing business and school work, a photo editor like photoshop for images, a hard disk for storing files and backups and so forth.
In the emerging model the handling of data and the use of software will increasingly become a service used on an as need basis. Just as individuals and businesses once handled their own money, with the emergence of the banking system and “proof” of it’s prudence in financial affairs it became irresponsible to “hide the money in the mattress.” In the information era, it is now becoming similarly irresponsible to keep all data assets in a home or business environment. New data “banks”-emerging due to the declining price of mass storage-are now established and are increasingly handling the storage, care and upkeep of private and business data.
Similarly companies such as Microsoft are backing away from retail “versions” of software delivered in packaged form and increasingly selling their software as a service and utilizing download delivery schemes.
In addition to this paradigm shift in how information is handled there is a concurrent technology revolution enabling exciting new methods of bringing buyers and sellers together.
What technologies are driving this revolution?
Quite a few are dovetailing and creating great new opportunities. For example, with the maturation of XML as a “standard” it is now possible for items “tagged” with an XML descriptor to be instantly found by anyone searching for that particular item. The continued development of “java” has lead to the ability to put together sophisticated search strings which with the help of “php” and other scripts allows for the request and the response to operate very quickly and accurately.
Light vector based technologies with time line capabilities such as FLASH allow for sophisticated design and integration of mixed media types-tied to previously static data base information for dynamic interaction.
What is dynamic and why?
Most small business websites are still static-meaning they consist mostly of written content, images and links. Many have incorporated forms and shopping carts for commerce and are described as interactive. Web 2.0 brings the era of the truly “dynamic” site-in which the behavior of the user helps dictate the user experience and the content is delivered dynamically to the existing page rather than going to another page such as happens when links, etc. are triggered.
For example mapping technologies have reshaped the way we get directions to stores and so forth. A few years back you could passively view a map of a general area, this was followed by the incorporation of zooming in and out and getting “to and from” directions. With new “web 2.0” mapping technology-referred to as mashups-maps now are alive with interactive possibilities and can be custom loaded with layers of information, different views (street map, satellite view, custom overlays, etc) and direct links to source location points (i.e. click on the store icon in an active map and you can go directly to the store’s blog page or website.).
Dynamism is driven by what is called AJAX-asynchronous “java” and XML. The asynchronous aspect is the key-allowing for more than one action occur at the same time and content to flow into the existing page rather than having to go the contents remote source via link.
Why isn’t my current website still relevant?
It’s still as relevant as it ever was-which is part of the problem. It is increasingly difficult to get people to visit sites not part of larger social networking environment and therefore “where the people are” so to speak. It’s simply way more relevant to have a presence in myspace, on Flickr, in eBay, via RSS and so forth.
Also in only a few months the “standards” era on the internet will become official and most current websites will not be accessible to most internet users unless they upgrade their html code to the new standard. This will represent the shift from the free for all internet of the past into the new era of the professional internet. Non standard sites will be viewed as suspect and increasingly users will block their browsers from interacting with non-standard sites.
For companies who do significant internet business we highly recommend quizzing your webmasters on their strategy for making the transition to “standards”. We also recommend a full analysis of the overall digital strategy of your business-are you certain if you are realizing the benefits of deflation in all aspects of your business?
How do blogs better help my business?
To begin with there is a huge community of users in the “blogoshphere” all of whom can be aware of your blog if you syndicate you entries via an RSS feed. Secondly blogs are very easy to update and add new content to without any special computer skills-posting stories, pictures, video and audio content can be learned in minutes.
Also blogs encourage interaction via comments with readers/potential customers. It’s a way of keeping fresh content in your internet presence, quickly responding to requests and comments, and broadcasting your ideas, products and services to an immense audience.
The key is to grasp the implications of the “social media” explosion. Phenomenon’s such as myspace, facebook, flickr, digg, zillow and so forth provide a platform for individuals who share similar interests to find each others and communicate in a variety of ways. Remaining in a stand alone environment minus the community potential of a social media hub misses the opportunity to networkwith literally billions of potential customers.
Whether it’s a good idea to drive users from a blog to a standalone site depends on the quality of the site of course. If the “homepage” is an ill designed, outdated and static environment it’s unlikely visitors will stay long-too many alternatives are a click away.
Why would I want to be lumped in with all my competitors?
For the same reason it’s a good idea for antique stores to cluster in urban environments. The combined lure of many stores is always going to draw more overall foot traffic than a standalone store.
Unlike most businesses, antique stores, boutiques and vintage shops are all unique and most often have unique individuals operating them. The individual areas of expertise are the intriguing aspect of the dealers and the personal imprint of the store owners most often drive the look ad feel of the business-often very hard to replicate online.
With current technology it is now possible to “bring” customers into your store via a combination of written, still image, video and audio content options-all now able to be handled without special computer expertise. Combining this ability to “broadcast” your business (via RSS) with the ability to “tag” your inventory so it can be found makes it far more likely you can get items sold at the prices you instinctively know they are worth to the right buyer-who may be unlikely to walk into the store randomly.
Shoppers Map is creating an antiquing community and opening the door to as many antique enthusiasts as possible-it behooves everyone in the business to be an active part of that conversation so to speak.
Give me an example of how someone out of my area can “find” something in my store if they’ve never heard of it or where it is.
Let’s assume you have a penny black stamp for sale. We’ll also assume you have an individual store blog within the Shoppers Map network of antique blogs. When you post the blog entry with a description and photo of the stamp here are a few scenarios.
Since Shoppers Map is syndicated, the moment you post the blog entry your entry is broadcast to anyone with a “newsreader”-currently over a billion is use worldwide.
In the event someone has a widget programmed to search for “penny black” any time that phrase enters the blogosphere, those individuals would likely immediately go from the newsfeed entry to the blog page via the provided link.
In the event someone searches any of the blog search engines for the phrase “penny black” you would come up in their search results and again are very likely to link directly to the source-regardless of whether they are in the next town or Latvia.
Within the Typepad (our blog service provider) blog family, any of the 250 million typepad bloggers could be alerted to the phrase instantly.
Also anyone in the Flickr community of over 100 million who happens to search for a photo of a penny black will find the photo which if clicked will lead to the store blog page.
If you simultaneously post the same blog entry in myspace with a link to store blog included yet again another community of 300 million could find you instantly.
The point is that as members of a unique affinity group (antique, vintage, etc) it behooves you to go where other enthusiasts are and communicate effectively.
What is a widget in web 2.0 terms?
An emerging example of how this will affect antique dealers is as follows. There are in development “antique finder” widgets that will 24/7 365 search for items you have told it to seek. So if you are looking for a penny black and an RSS feed with a penny black hits the newsreader, you will be alerted immediately.
Other widgets include eBay monitors, Craigs List monitors and so forth.
I’ve heard I’m already impacted by web 2.0 and I don’t even know what it is-how is that possible?
This is true and the ostrich method of ignoring this phenomenon doesn’t really apply. For example, the web 2.0 site “Yelp” is a community of amateur users who post reviews of stores, bars, and other phenomenon-mostly geographically based. Very likely if you operate a storefront business there is a Yelp profile and likely comments about the business. Are you aware of what people are saying about your business?
The notion of the reputation system-famously deployed by eBay to cut down on fraud-is becoming another staple construct of the “new web 2.0” aesthetic. Thus the comments section in the blog can be a crucial place to monitor, shape and if necessary repair your reputation.
Unlike your physical business, your web business will not be conspicuous in it’s absence-it will simply not exist-a very significant risk in today’s marketplace.
Didn’t eBay already ruin everything-and now this?
In our opinion eBay should be the best friend of every dealer of unique items in the world. A few thoughts on why follow.
eBay at it’s core is two key concepts that work together. It is a disintermediary and uses a reputation system, The result has been the biggest marketplace in the history of capitalism and the world-not bad in 10 years!
For sellers of commodity goods this is a real problem as the need for the dealer is perceived as being negligible. As a result prices for goods such as new cars, cameras, computers, etc drop to a marketplace level often below traditional wholesale.
In the antique business the perceived value of the dealer is viewed as worthwhile-they are assumed to be more expert in the field and thus their participation in a transaction is viewed less pejoratively.
Similarly in eBay the notion of having a good reputation rating is crucial-very similar to how a good local reputation as a dealer can be crucial. The opportunity to leverage reputations across virtual and physical locations is unprecedented and the implications should be explored.
Also, participating in eBay gives a dealer a virtual “casino license”. Auctions are in effect games of chance and the opportunity to have fun, drive prices and develop qualified leads driving business to other items is inherent.
eBay, contemporary blogs and even static websites are “open” 24/7 365 unlike physical stores. The opportunity to explore making dynamic moves in the virtual world to help move inventory and source bargains seems to be in inevitable part of any antique shop keeper’s business strategy henceforth.
Also eBay is yet another giant community-over 2 billion in which having a virtual store and corresponding blog (which can be redundant to your shoppers map blog of course) makes you and your inventory that much more imminently “findable” and gives your RSS broadcasts ever more exposure.
What if I’m on the paper map and not on the blog map?
As a service to all Shoppers Map customers all stores on the paper maps will be included on the blog maps which mirror the brochure maps. By subscribing to the Shoppers Map blog the opportunity to have a direct link to your store page and the corresponding entries can effectively take visitors from the location on the map to your virtual store. This affords you the opportunity to showcase inventory, open a conversation with new and/or existing customers and dynamically and easily update the store page with fresh content and new items.
The concept is really for each marketing channel to foster the other. The physical maps encourage visitors to tour all the stores while out shopping and then visit the blog when back on-line. The on-line store is designed to both sell items and drive business to the store-the channels should be set up to constantly drive business back and forth between the virtual and physical worlds.