Wednesday, January 24, 2007

B2B 2.0

Chris has left LibraryThing. I don't know him, but apparently he's done some really good work for one of my favorite Web 2.0 plays; a social site based around book collecting.

There are lots of definitions of Web 2.0, but at least one of the principles that seems to define it is "Online Community". Flickr, YouTube, Yahoo! Answers. Online communities have been around since the beginning, of course, at first through mailing lists and NNTP servers, later through applications and, eventually, web sites. When we at Sunstorm were working on a version of Deer Hunter that was going to have a multiplayer mode - we had only the vaguest idea how that might work - I went to a seminar at the Game Developer's Conference on the topic of building online communities. We did a little work towards it; our web site ran some decent forum software, but in 1998 the Deer Hunter target market did not actually overlap with people who spent a lot of time online, which was hampering.

At least we had a good size target market. Combine the lush outdoor scenery of Deer Hunter 3 with a visionary concept of online communication, and we might have had our own version of Second Life on our hands, five years before anyone else. But of course, we didn't have the vision thing. It's still the hardest part of launching a consumer oriented web site. Wal-Mart tried it. Xanga was hip for a while. Not much there there, now.

But what about an online community as part of a B2B play? Not a corporate MySpace, but a self-selecting group made up of users of your product. If your target is geeks you might have a leg up here; Kinook has a nice online forum. Axosoft has forums and bloggers. The forum we put up at Interactive Intelligence seems to be buzzing along nicely. When I was there the customer base was very technical; that may be less so as their customer base has grown. But I think an actual, product-based online community is very workable for a business-to-business company. More later.