Sunday, January 16, 2011

Social Commerce: the Corsican donkey is still ahead of the digital curve!

Off the west coastline of Italy, right above Sardigna, there is an island called Corsica:

Somewhere in the center of this Island there is the rocky village from my mother's side called Castiglioni:

 About 50 houses perched up at an altitude of about 3,000 feet overlooked by the unbeliveable dents of the "Pulasca Peaks" which should actually be named "Castiglioni Peaks".

Social commerce has been the staple of the local economy for dozens of decades there.

Communication from one valley to the next was almost impossible, let's take a closer look at these peaks to understand why:

As a result, the notion of "Community" took on its full meaning from the onset because the people from my village didn't have much contact with the outside world to the extent that from one valley to the next, each community was developing its own Corsican language in a parallel fashion with very few overlaps (the few who could make it to the next community by climbing over the peaks could create slight overlaps over time though).

Beyond the nature of the local environment that organically favored human communities, at that time, the only means of transportation was the famous Corsican donkey, and it certainly didn't help to boost the openness of the village-based communities.  Information and goods could only travel as fast as their sluggish, near dormant pace:

However, I have a lot of respect for the donkey for being the source code of one of the first human social commerce apps.  On the picture above you can see how milk (on the donkey) and water (on top of the lady's head) were converging from the mountains back to the village's church square along with all the other hyperlocal social commerce items (wheat, tomatoes, salads, eggs, wild boar, venison, trout and other fish from the river, and you name it).  In essence, the Corsican square represented a first iteration of the virtual Facebook wall at the scale of a village, you could get in a few minutes all the social updates from the community directly into your ears, from human voices.

WOM (Word Of Mouth) marketing was already at the epicenter of social commerce at that time as each community leader (the expert in wheat a.k.a. "Ours Antoine", the expert in tomatoe a.k.a. "Mimi", the expert in wild boar a.k.a. "Pascuale" etc...) would organically acquire a fame from their product expertise that would virally spread across the community and make them emerge from others in their respective social commerce vertical.

Does that sound familiar in the digital age of consumer ratings and reviews?

If we step back for a second, we realize that Corsica had already historically come up with a first version of Facebook where clusters of semi-private communities coexisted in their native valleys.  It even looked a bit like that if I try to represent the "social network" with the new version of Syncpad for iPad:

Even better than the Facebook that we have today, the Corsican social network from that time already included a social commerce application driven by a donkey-based source code.  Today, we are beginning to see this social integration on Facebook with brands getting to the conclusion that the user experience is as important as the value proposition of the service or product that they strive to market.  Therefore, brands start seeing the value of ensuring that the commercial interaction happens within the walls of Facebook and not necessarily within their branded site that would disrupt the social experience of their target audience.  Milyoni led by John Corpus is one of these first social shopping startups that integrate the e-commerce shopping experience within Facebook.

It's funny to see how the future is trying to catch up with the ancestral past of social commerce.  As the disruptive innovation of the explosion engine came to life, the robust social commerce experience of the Corsican social network saw an upgrade of the source code of its social shopping app with the "local vendor van".  The communication between the valleys was now possible and the structure of the local industry (local suppliers of village-grown produces mostly) suddenly became more competitive.  This gave rise to a cross-pollination phenomenon where the best cross-community experts rose above the masses to cater to the more limited needs of a shrinking target market as more and more natives left the island to find new opportunities to accomodate the new needs of a more modern society on "le continent" (a.k.a. continental France) thanks to lower prices on the engine-powered boats' tickets.

The baker's, butcher's, vegetable grower's vans sent the donkey to an unexpected early retirement and personal cars acquired by the few helped accelerate the WOM in the consolidated ecosystem of the neighboring valleys...

The cross-pollinated social commerce network picture had then shifted this way:

 Yes, the Internet did lower the heights of the peaks, steamed up the seas surrounding the islands, and sped up the information flows onto new digital highways but...   What the hell is truly innovative in the digital wave of Social Commerce so far?  Am I missing something?

Well, what about the advent of the 500+ "collective buying" companies that have bloomed all over the Internet over the past two years?  Would that be where disruptive social commerce innovation is coming from?

Wait...  It looks like the notion of "Tuangou" (a.k.a. collective/team buying) has been around in Asia for quite some time and it has even spawned some interesting situation at a local Ford dealer in China where the sales rep decided to change the price up as the team of buyers showed up in-store to pick up their pre-negotiated cars!

Team buyers at a Ford dealer in China
So...  It looks like the Corsican donkey is still ahead of the digital social commerce innovation curve in the end, "doucement le matin et pas trop vite le soir" (slowly in the morning and not too fast in the evening).

2011 will require some more #gamestorming to finally see disruptive social commerce innovation take the ancestral social commerce applications by storm and redefine social commerce in unprecedented ways.

Maybe it is time to become human again to create sustainable social commerce models?  Models that will stick for a long time to the donkey's back...

Let's start #gamestorming right now then, @davegray can surely help us then: