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It should come as no surprise that the continuing development of the internet is consistently resulting in significant shifts as to how businesses operate, consumers react and how products are bought.
Naturally, the very fundamental structures of business models are evolving in line with this, becoming far more flexible and innovative than has arguably ever been seen before.
Last year, I explored how the recession was effectively forcing organisations to get smarter and raise their levels of success. This year, I expect to see a greater emergence of innovative and disruptive business models, as well as new companies.
Already, there are lots of sites and services that currently exist, but I'm sure there's plenty more that will appear.
Here are some that have caught my eye recently...
Econsultancy’s Director of Innovation Chris Lake flagged this interesting site up with me earlier this week. Although I’m not entirely sure how the company expects to make money, it’s an extension of the concept of time banking.
Traditionally, this has been used in an offline sense, with the likes of Time Banking UK being able to help local communities, but 65Hours takes this to the next level by allowing a wider reach of services and people to be virtually available.
I’ve seen similar online models to airbnb, but this just seems like a much slicker proposition, all round.
The site acts as a social marketplace between individuals who have spaces to share, whether it’s “an urban apartment or countryside castle” and those who are looking for somewhere to stay. Although only a couple of years old, it now covers some 8,000 cities across more than 160 countries.
Reverse auctions. They seem to be becoming more popular, but it seems fair to suggest that DubLi is leading the pack, as it not only uses this model and simultaneously running a unique bid auction, but it also operates an open network to help drive traffic.
In the past, consumers have generally been wary of such sites, viewing them as elaborate scams, but it seems that this is shifting. Last year the site reported smashing the 3.5 million-user mark.
Social media is a pretty big buzzword nowadays, and monetary value inside this extremely wide channel is constantly being explored. The clever chaps at Flattr saw this and decided to create social micropayments, rising to fame as the only method to donate money to Wikileaks, after the site was cut off by PayPal and Visa.
Flattr works in a similar way to bookmarking, although there’s money involved. You set up a small monthly fee, “flattring” sites as you browse the internet. At the end of the month, the fee you set is divided between all the things you flattered.
Where would this list be without Groupon? At the moment, the site seems to be on everyone‘s minds, not least because of Google’s direct competitor launch following a public rejection of some $5bn a few months ago.
It’s debatable as to the levels of success Groupon can bring to businesses, as Patricio Robles points out, but the business model itself is a sure winner, with plenty of imitators beginning to appear.
Online gaming is pretty big business these days, as indicated by Econsultancy's social gaming research. Wolfire Games were smart enough to pick up on this and created an online experiment that allowed users to buy independent video games, but to also pay what they wanted for their downloads.
The money was then split directly between the developer of each specific game and charities. This payment model has been used before, perhaps most famously by Radiohead, but this allowed smaller developers a temporary route into a space dominated by only a handful of huge companies.
The project was so successful last year, it ran a second time, netting some $1.8m sales and there are plans for a third run soon.
Arguably, crowdsourcing isn’t a particularly new concept any more, but I had to mention this site. It’s been around for a bit, but just works so damn well.
The site refers to itself as a social think tank, where big brands, the likes of Red Bull, Chevrolet, Unilver and BMW, can post up creative briefs. Users on the site can then pitch their ideas, with the best ones being bought by the brand.
Fund and follow creativity. That’s the strapline on a site where users donate money to individual projects to see them fulfilled.
It’s not about lending, as products or experiences are offered in return for the financial backing. It’s also fast paced: a project must reach its funding goal within an allocated time frame, or it receives nothing.
How much is someone’s attention worth? This is something MyAttn seems to want to address, offering an auction-based platform tied into emails, this means that emailers are given the opportunity to bid for the recipients attention.
Those who bid highest will see their emails pushed to the front of the queue, maximising the chance of engagement. As pointed out by a lot of people, this won’t necessarily solve the problem of increasingly overcrowded inboxes. But it’s certainly a start.
Named one of the ”15 companies that will change the world”, PLM is a social networking site that allows users to share symptom and treatment information, but also lets doctors and medical researchers access the site to collect anonymous information to improve healthcare and develop cures. On top of this, as a commercial business, it sells data to pharmaceutical companies.
Again with the crowd sourcing, Quirky aims to “make invention accessible”. Budding entrepreneurs submit their ideas to a willing community, where products or services can be co-designed and built in real-time.
This is then taken further, by suppliers being able to set a minimum amount of pre-sales and if this is met, the dream becomes a reality, with the plans becoming a physical product. Revenue from any sales online is shared proportionately with the community, the initial inventor and those who contributed.
Learning from the popular online-contact-lens model, Razwar taps into another essential suitable for regular monthly delivery – razor blades. Undercutting (pun intended) the vast majority of off-the-shelf razors, Razwar operates a subscription-based model alongside their online shop, so a monthly payment plan ensures that you’re guaranteed a fresh shaving kit on a regular basis.
Everyday items are increasingly finding their way online through services such as the one operated by milk&more - but this struck me as being particularly exemplary.
Find that sweet moment. (Sweemo). This site aims to be a marketplace where people trade real-life experiences, as diverse as guitar lessons to swimming with sharks. Think eBay, but where personal events are in demand, instead of physical goods. Currently, the site is being refreshed, so hopefully we’ll see more of the company during 2011.
There’s a lot of companies online who offer genetic testing, at a lot of different prices - so if you want to know what’s in your DNA, who do you choose?
TruGenetics got around this by offering genome reports for free to users, in exchange that the data collected could be anonymously sold to pharma, biotech or medical organisations.
The service is pretty flawless: a highly personal service that becomes more valuable the more unidentifiable it is overall. It proved to be so popular, they had to suspend new registrations in the programme as it whizzed past the 10,000-user mark.
Woot takes the stance of only selling one single product at a discounted price, but with limited stock, helping to relay the urgency of purchase and gives users focus.
Generally, the featured products are electronics or computing, but the site certainly seems to be working, as shoot-offs into wine, t-shirts and children’s products have been developed.
[Image hat-tip: Search Engine People Blog]