Where or where are the Web 2.0 turnkey hosts?
Where are the modular, Web 2.0-ish web application hosting companies empowering individuals and, most importantly, the small to medium sized companies (that are the engine of the world’s job creation) so they’re able to accelerate in to this next phase of the Web?
In the last few months (and especially the last few weeks), I’ve had opportunity bitch-slap me in the face that *someone* needs to address. Admittedly there are some really hard problems to figure out (identity management, infrastructure) but the opportunity is there:
1) Small to Midsize Businesses (arguably SMB is defined as organizations with revenues from $0 to $1.5B) are either *clueless* about blogging, vlogging, podcasting, social apps, wiki’s, ecommerce-with-digital-delivery, content management…or they see it as *really hard* to deliver…so they don’t bother. SMB’s need to host each of these in different places — or they require *gignormous budgets* to develop and deliver meaningful Web applications. When I was working at Vignette, we could deliver it all but only for the BIGGEST organizations and only those with the largest BUDGETS could buy, build and deliver truly meaningful web offerings for their organization.
All but low-level brochureware web sites and hard ecommerce was (and still is) available to SMB’s. To fully take advantage of all that Web 2.0 promises, offerings need to be holistic, seamless and modular….Lego-like in their assembly and ending up looking like those SMB’s spent millions on it.
2) SMB requires click-n-configure, drag-n-drop, browser-only creation and administraton that allows most of the non-techies in an organization an opportunity to manage. In a hosted environment,multiple creators/managers/users (located anywhere on the internet) need to be involved with discrete portions of the overall Web offering (like just their blog; just their child web site; just their part of the ecommerce catalog, etc.).
3) Ecommerce is really, really hard for SMB. Forget about B2B selling unless, again, the budgets are huge (remember B2B in the dotcom era?) but this is critical via web services in order to be competitive on the world stage. I’ve got my bride’s company hosted at www.bigstep.com which is web/catalog/ecommerce (shopping cart too) but Bigstep does NOT have what we and dozens of other companies I talk with CRAVE: digital purchase and delivery of PDF’s, media files and other files (micropayment capability would be frosting on this cake) in exchange for a customer’s payment, seamless creation and the ability to add modular functionality quickly.
Yahoo Merchant is too hard. Bryght, JotSpot and Ning have the right idea…they’re just too narrow and still require lots of people with propellers-on-their-beanies to make it work. Yahoo 360’s UI and themes are pedestrian… as are MSN’s…and they don’t offer what businesses need, only consumers. AlwaysOn and Marc Cantor’s Broadband Mechanics new GoingOn network is people-centric (concept image here)…not business centric, and businesses pay the people to be able to spend free time creating blogs, podcasts, etc..
To truly virtualize their businesses and connect globally to other businesses and people, BUSINESSES NEED CHUNKS OF FUNCTIONALITY THAT THEY CAN ASSEMBLE EASILY IN TO A WEB APPLICATION that looks world-class, is intuitive to use for both creators and users, is fast and scalable, and enables the businesses to generate new top-line revenues while either cutting costs or innovating to create new products and services.
What AlwaysOn and Marc Cantor are delivering with GoingOn is *awesome* and I can’t wait. But GoingOn is people-centric vs. company-centric. It’s about people aggregating their stuff and connecting in affinity groups with others in a social way. The identity management piece GoingOn is enabling alone will be the killer service, IMHO. Cool, incredibly empowering, perfect for connecting people…but not what I think is necessary.
Companies are about product and services. Yeah, yeah, I know…companies are comprised of people. But if you’re a person that owns a company, the health and growth of the business is what keeps paychecks flowing while creating new jobs, and allows the people within the company to live in our current capitalistic economic system. So having a framework to allow the business to flourish and also to enable/empower/connect people internally and externally with the company (and its product and services) is *incredibly* powerful and *no one* is delivering the integrated functionality that is required.
Though Drupal (a PHP driven content management system quite popular right now) has an ecommerce module (which a technoweenie could probably plug in at one of the many Drupal hosting companies), GoingOn doesn’t address what companies need — nor do any others.
Every hosted offering is either narrow or is a mish-mosh of open source software that *all* work differently. Different back-ends ensuring that even a techie would have a difficult time making everything work together; different front-ends making a common theme and color extremely tough to deliver; and a learning curve so steep that not too many people even bother.
Again, enabling/empowering/connecting people in their small to medium sized companies is critical. My bride has done 7 workshops in Thailand in the last few years (for the Thai Dept of Export Promotion) to assist the tiny micro companies to understand, create and deliver trend-right products for the world markets. How easy would it be for her, for me, for some smart people to create a turnkey, integrated offering that would connect all these Thai people *and* allow them to sell their products? With what’s available today…nothing.
When we were in Peru last year, all I saw was beauty, incredible products, a fabulous, kind populace who are so economically impoverished that they had no hope to offer up their value to the world. Yes, there are importers of their goods and small textile factories there…but that is NOT empowering the people to leverage their own value on the world markets. Again…something like what I’m describing for SMB’s would be one critical super-enabler to kickstart the Peruvian people to offer their intrinsic value to the world.
Thailand and Peru have internet cafe’s all over the place so access isn’t too much of an obstacle. What *is* an obstacle is that it’s just too damn hard and expensive to put all this web stuff together.
So here are the questions. Who is delivering this? Is anyone? I’ve got immediate opportunity to enable a couple of companies (though scale would be an issue too as I described here) but have found several that are doing some or part of what’s required in #1 above. It’s still just way too hard.
NOTE: A buddy pointed out to me that I didn’t *at all* address Microsoft’s “Live” offerings (WindowsLive and OfficeLive). That’s because it’s vaporware (or conceptualvaporware).
About Steve Borsch
Connecting the Dots Podcast
Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.