Category Archives: advertising

Hyperbusiness Opportunity #4

photo: cgt

One of the most successful APIs in use on the Internet today belongs to Twitter. Despite its overwhelming success – and half a billion users – Twitter has struggled into profitability. The service can be used freely by anyone, for anything imaginable – but that doesn’t create revenue for Twitter. CEO Dick Costolo has decided on a change of direction, restricting the API in an effort to channel Twitter’s users toward Twitter-created tools showing Twitter-approved views — delivered with embedded, unblockable advertising.

It’s a tricky thing to change an API that millions of developers have been using for years. Many of Microsoft’s APIs for its Windows operating system have remained essentially unchanged for almost two decades, precisely because the software giant did not want to force programmers to re-write their programs – and risk losing them to a competing operating system. Most often companies will ‘deprecate’ their APIs, essentially saying, “We’d prefer you didn’t use this, but if you really must, here it is,” keeping them available for years while guiding programmers through a relatively painless transition into the new API – that’s Apple’s strategy.

In order to satisfy its commercial imperatives, Twitter will remove services, not simply obsolete and replace them. Some things a developer can do with Twitter today will not be possible in the near future. Their applications will break, and no amount of rewriting will restore that functionality.

Twitter has become an Internet-on-top-of-the-Internet, a way of making connections through an abstract interface which removes the requirement of knowing where the connection is being made. Although we rarely reflect upon it, the Internet is very much like a landline telephone network – an Internet Protocol (IP) address is attached to a specific computer in a specific place. This is glossed a little for mobile devices, which have temporary IP numbers assigned to them as needed, but the idea remains the same: the number maps onto a computing device.

Twitter changed that; I could be on any computer anywhere, and, via Twitter’s switchboard messaging, could engage in communication with another computer (and user) anywhere, neither side possessing any awareness of the location the other. All you need is the Twitter account ‘handle’ – such as @mpesce, @TheEconomist, or @servalproject – to directly connect to the other party. This is an important service, one for which there is great demand. If Twitter will not provide this service, another organization will rise up to meet that need.

Software developer App.Net recently raised half a million dollars through crowdfunding to provide such a service. When they started their fundraising, Twitter had not announced its change in direction, but their timing was excellent – as soon as the announcement came, contributors flocked to App.Net, knowing they would need a reliable provider, serving up an API providing the abstract connections that has made Twitter so powerful.

Twitter seems perfectly content to cede this ground, choosing short-term profits over long-term utility, casting itself as an application, rather than the plumbing that makes many applications possible. There may be no glory in plumbing, but people will always need it; plumbing opens the path to opportunities inconceivable for an advertising business.

Hyperbusiness Opportunity #2

I have a housecleaner who visits every fortnight. Due to the variability in our schedules, I send her a text message with a proposed time, which often leads to a bit of negotiation and consultation of our respective schedules before we come to agreement on the specifics of a visit. Although I’ve made it sound a bit complicated, it’s practically frictionless, and possible only because both of us carry our mobiles all the time.

With aggregated labour available on demand, there’s no real reason for me to negotiate with my housecleaner. I should simply be able to put a request into a pool of available labour – housecleaning being the kind of ‘guided category’ perfect for an Airtasker – working my way through the cleaners bidding for my work job. If I were truly lazy or too busy, I could let the app handle the whole thing, giving it a price range, a window of time, and a rating for the cleaner. (I do want a highly-rated cleaner, someone I can trust will do a good job, and will take great care with my possessions.) In that situation, my mobile would simply inform me with a notification that a housecleaning had been scheduled for such and such a time, with such and such a person.

This solves my problem nicely, but does it leave my housecleaner high and dry? Having established a relationship with her, and being very satisfied with her cleaning, I’d preferentially use her services. She could be advertising her availability on Airtasker, specifically looking for me (and her other clients) so she can sweep in and make the first bid – if it works for her. This might lead to even more work for her, as she could aggressively fill her schedule with cleaning jobs that were relatively close together, limiting the travel time between each job – in fact, the app could probably do that for her.

In the end, you have housecleaning-as-a-service, appified, available at the poke of a finger. More and more of the services we use – domestic and commercial – will come to us through such apps. Hyperbusiness is the appification of business.

Hyperbusiness Opportunity #1

On a recent trip to Singapore with my friend Nicola, I poked through an iPhone app named ‘ieat Hawker’, named after the famed ‘hawker’ food halls that dot the city-state. Nicola wanted to sample Char Kway Teow – a delicious Chinese fried noodle dish – at one of the hawker centers. I went through the list provided by my app, diligently checking its location on the map with our location. Each of them involved a hefty trek in a taxi or on the subway – and we were too hot, humid and hungry to embark on that kind of quest.

In a moment of exasperation, Nicola asked me, “Why can’t I tell my phone that I want some good Char Kway Teow – and then have it tell me when I’m near a hawker who can cook some up for me?” And indeed, location-based apps like Foursquare should work this way – you should be able to advertise your interest in something, and let the app find it for you. Instead, the apps work the other way around – they advertise to you all sorts of things that you’re never interested in, which is why none of them have been very successful for businesses.

Now that the market is everywhere, hyperbusinesses listen to what the market wants. Every individual can now advertise their needs in a way that allows the hyperbusiness to offer just what any individual needs, just when they need it.

The model of advertising that grew up in the era of mass media (even all the way to Google) has been turned inside-out by the presence of the pervasive market. Now we each advertise our needs as consumers, and businesses offer to fulfil those needs. This is just what Marico does when it sends its daily text message to coconut pickers. It’s vastly more efficient than a shotgun approach – or even targeted advertising, because rather than trying to gin up demand, a business is always satisfying an advertised need.