E-Commerce’s Tween Years

Little E-Commerce is turning 11 years old this year and, like its human counterparts, this is an awkward part of its corporate adolescence.

It’s no longer the cute little tyke from ’95 and ’96, with those adorable Web sites selling dog food from around the world, which its corporate parents dutifully placed on their boardroom freezer door.

But it’s also not yet like the mature, stable economic tools, like its big brother IP and Grandpa Catalogue and Grandma Bricken Mortar. Just like its toddler stage in the mid-90s, it’s once again time for experimentation. Most experiments will be the most important thing in the world…for about a week, and will then be as quickly forgotten as the dirty dinner dishes.

Although Daddy Berners-Lee technically created the WWW in 1989—with the first working system deployed in 1990—it wasn’t until 1993 when Uncle Andreesen made Web browsers graphical that consumers and most business executives even discovered the Internet, let alone the very young Web.

And in 1994, the year we declare little EC was born, is when Mosaic left the NCSA university environment and became a true business tool.

Today, our 11-year-old Mean Tween Sellin’ Machine is trying to find itself.

For example, some of the guys behind MySimon.com are now running become.com, and they have decided that the Web needs a search engine that only searches reviews.

At one level, this concept is an intriguing one in the sense that people often want to find Web content that is about a certain topic, not merely mentioning the name of the topic. By all rights, this idea should be owned by About.com, but they have a fairly cool Web site already.

Journalistically, though, Become.com’s site doesn’t deliver on the true potential of the idea. When consumers say that they want to find reviews and in-depth comparative stories on a given topic, they actually mean they want to find credible, authoritative content on that topic. That’s been the secret behind Consumer Reports for years.

Out there on the Web, there are tons of insightful and credible reviews on almost any topic imaginable. Regrettably, there are an even greater number of bogus “reviews” out there, either advertising copy meant to fool people into thinking it’s an independent review … or true reviews done by reviewers who are not making fair or legitimate comparisons.

I risk being swamped with nasty e-mail for saying this, but I wouldn’t trust a review by a true Mac bigot if the review was comparing a Mac and a Windows machine. But I would gleefully pay attention to that same reviewer if he/she was comparing two new Macs.

Alas, the typical consumer has no idea who the reviewer is, who the publication is nor who should be believed. A Web site of consumer product reviews would be a fabulous idea if there were an editorial component that asked hard questions and stood behind the legitimacy of reviews it offered on its pages.

There’s no need to review every product out there, but simply letting software select reviews to link to is an idea that needs to be tweaked.

Next Page: Universal shopping carts

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