Bill Gates sent a memo to all the executive staff of Microsoft in 1995, educating them on the ‘Internet Tidal Wave’, urging the entire company to re-align its focus on riding the wave. The annexure of that memo lists all the websites that were the most popular/cool/useful at that point of time
Other than Yahoo, can you spot a single website that is still useful or cool or popular? Or how many of them are still alive, for that matter?
Despite the value that a Nokia 1100 added to our lives about a decade back, would it not be irrelevant today ? Do you remember those typewriters, the DOS machines, the CRT monitors? Think about executing your today’s job on one of those machines. Go ahead, share your files over a floppy drive or even a CD for that matter. Or try carrying your music in those bulky cassettes and play them on a walkman.
None of this was bad technology. They were all, in fact, brilliant at their time. But as we know, they all gave way to better technology. Technology that made our lives a lot simpler, easier, faster, happier. The companies that didn’t evolve, however, vanished as time passed. Even those which made it to Bill Gates’ featured list.
In such a time, we’re forced to make local business decisions, the same way we did a 100 years back - look up a directory, get a list of businesses, call them up one-by-one. Most local business solutions available today are largely listing services, starting from the giants of the industry - Just Dial to the newer players like Askme.
It was all fine till we were all separate islands. Till we only had access to the information in our heads, or, at best, the people around us. Facebook and the internet changed that. As a result, the smart, tech-savvy individuals have found better ways to find local businesses for their needs. And one of them is Chennai Shopping.
Chennai Shopping is a Facebook group that aims to connect interested buyers with vendors. The vendors post the photos of their products from time to time, and the interested customers reach out to them. With 47000 members(as of the date this blog is written), the group is indeed doing a commendable job in helping shopaholics discover awesome small-businesses, and enabling small vendors to reach out to potential customers with ease.
People tend to post all kinds of local needs on Chennai shopping, ranging from health to parenting. The group is not designed for Q&A, but they do not restrict such queries, even when only 30% are actually shopping-related. At this point, let’s try to understand this - why would someone post their need, for something as sensitive as a gynecologist, in a shopping group? Seems to me that they have no choice. Let’s look at the alternatives
Google - gives you a list with the SEO specialist on top (SEO is a process to make your website come on top of Google’s search results)
Just Dial - gives you a list (with the highest paying merchant on top?)
Sulekha, Askme et al - more or less similar to Just Dial, right ?
None of these can actually help you make real-life decisions. And that’s why you see people posting all their needs in CS - be it nannies for their kids, doctors for their parents, passport agents, cooks or accountants. It seems apparent that users can’t choose the better gynecologist by looking at a list. They need real experiences from real people. Even if they’re just strangers with just a basic social identity. Even if they end up getting very few options. Even if the platform is not designed to effectively handle Q&A.
Seems to me that people have started moving on - away from listing-services that provide no context, no social identity and no relevance to the individual. One-size-fit-all solutions don’t work anymore.
This just reminds us, yet again, how stagnant technology, becomes but a fossil in an era of agile development. It’s hard to understand why a seasoned company like Just Dial is still not able to help users make real-life decisions, despite having the most comprehensive database of local businesses. Remember Orkut? Messenger? Rediffmail? We don’t connect with people the same way anymore, we don’t IM the same way anymore, we don’t e-mail the same way anymore. If at all Orkut taught us anything, it’s that “Changing in time matters as much as changing itself”
So why does this bother me ? Because I think that’s not enough.
Yes, Just Dial has brought the names of all local businesses online. Yes, Chennai Shopping has shown that people choose to believe in recommendations from other people and not from databases. But what if we could get such recommendations seamlessly and effortlessly from the people we trust the most - our friends? What if we could choose to make such valuable information available and accessible to everyone in our network, when they need it the most? The possibilities of what can be done in this space are endless.
Just Dial is the past, Chennai Shopping is the interim present. I’m currently working here with a team that’s supremely passionate about creating the future of this space. And we call it Frilp.
The present is theirs; the future, for which I have really worked, will be mine. - Nikola Tesla.
So what do you think ? Would you trust recommendations from a group like Chennai Shopping, over a list from Just Dial ? Do you think a lot more can be done in this space ? Give your thoughts in the comments below.