When advising companies about Internet marketing these days, I like to adapt one of the first rules of English language I presume every elementary school student still learns: "i" before "e" except after "c." My version goes "I" before "e" except after "we."
"E" refers to e-commerce, which of course is any construct in which commercial transactions occur online. Here, the business brand is all. The concept of i-commerce, conversely, is one in which an individual person is at the center of transactions -- think scheduling a date or promoting one's own new blog post. I-commerce is centered on the personal brand and, when effectively engaged and nurtured, can be a powerful driver of e-commerce transactions.
Now that millions of individuals and smaller businesses have leveraged a more democratic Web to create their own brands (and followers of those brands), services like Groupon became possible. A cool coupon offer is made available by a local business with its own awesome brand; a woman with a great personal brand and a huge number of followers really wants to see that coupon offer activated, so she mobilizes her followers and voila: a local shop is instantly overrun.
"We-commerce," then, is any construct in which the crowd is the source of many transactions toward a specific end. In this situation, a crowd brand is king. Group-think, herd mentality, wisdom-of-the-crowds and other psycho-social variables often drive we-commerce activity. In 2010, the most notable new crowd brand was the Tea Party and its affiliates, which drove a bunch of economic activity, business and political. For instance, I worked with a business brand selling gold and gold-backed financial instruments last year, and by embracing and nurturing the Tea Party crowd, it was able to drive impressive increases in sales (a return to the gold standard for the dollar is a central tenet of the Tea Party crowd brand).
The current bubble in Silicon Valley has a lot to do with the still-nascent rise of we-commerce and what that means for business, marketing and movements. As more and more we-commerce mechanisms are built and become popular,the need for an associated search mechanism will become more apparent.
So, prediction number 1: look for a whole range of we-commerce applications and Web services in 2011 (I love Groupon, but also a little start-up for the sports-minded called Hitpost, which the Notre Dame Diaspora, for instance, can use to find physical or virtual gatherings with whom to cheer on their teams. Hitpost has also teamed up with Sports Illustrated to create an app for the Chrome Store that enables a wisdom-of-the-crowd effort to source the best sports photography the world over).
Prediction number 2: look for search-related services designed to ferret out we-commerce trends and opportunities based on the specific interests or beliefs of any given individual.
Prediction number 3: business, educational services, and political, religious and social movements will also try to figure out how best to leverage we-commerce mechanisms to activate markets, learning, like-minded people and political change.
And my other predictions are:
Let the games begin! Happy New Year.