There is a change on the horizon and it is about voyeurism.
No, no, no – get your mind out of the gutter, the kind of voyeurism I’m referring to here is “Voyeuristic Business”. That means businesses that are based almost entirely on observing and capitalizing on what other people – not part of the business – are doing and enabling them to do it. Think YouTube, or Craig’slist, or Twitter or Delicious, or your favorite dating site. What all these businesses have in common is that they bring together large communities of people with a common affinity for some topic or activity. These businesses then mine that community to pull out things of value that the business can either sell or invite others in to sell to the community.
Now this is different in most respects to how the vast majority of traditional businesses work. Most traditional businesses sell products, information, or services that have been created or coordinated by that business. They sell this to a customer base that comes to the business because of what it has to offer in those areas. However, in the voyeuristic business, the value is generated by the community of people that the business is built around. The customers often don’t even know what kind of business model they are supporting. For example, how many customers of Facebook really understand how Facebook makes money? Certainly, we know how McDonalds makes money.
It is useful to examine what has happened to bring this new thinking into focus.
1 – Large communities of people with common interests have become much easier to create with the advent of the Internet and social networking.
2 – This has led to examples of how to mine such communities whether it be through advertising (ad revenues), through injecting resources into the community (the app store, Force.com), or by having the members create items of interest to trade and or sell to one another (gaming communities or even open source).
3 – Large community and content based sites have been sold or invested in recently for large sums (again Youtube, Craigslist) thus catalyzing greater interest in these communities and their content as potential money generators.
4 – Content communities have become mainstream mechanisms to the point that they are referenced in very well-respected parts of society from news programs to boardrooms, to newly elected presidents.
These types of changes in how web based communities and the content they generate are viewed leads to a new set of opportunities. Ommunities may be hard to build, but they are also hard to lose. And, that is a proposition that is valuable to any business. Ad to this the fact that the customers do a lot of the work so the costs of doing business can be very low. Barriers to startup ae reduced since business track-record, size, or longevity are not criteria used to evaluate voyeuristic businesses.
So, as the amount of freely available information grows and the number of people who interact with it grows, the number of businesses who understand how to make money from selling to those who want to sell to those who are just – hanging out – will grow.
So, keep an eye out for the voyeuristic business. It may be an opportunity you never expected.