I'm a solution architect in the Platform Architecture team at Microsoft. Last couple of years I’ve been working with service providers like e-commerce, digital entertainment. Let me name it “consumer oriented service”. Through my investigation on consumer oriented services, I found two key trends in this domain as follows.
1. Integration between commercial services and social networks.
2. Web as a knowledge base
Users are increasingly turning to the Web not just for information but for lifestyle purposes: to meet and interact with like-minded people in online communities. As the lifestyle component of the online experience has grown in importance, service providers have moved to meet the demand. The extent and nature of this shift can be detected by observing a number of trends.
One trend has been the rise of specialized service and content providers, a phenomenon sometimes called “narrowcasting.” Despite being known as a global medium, the Internet offers significant opportunities for services with specialized appeal. Locally- or regionally-targeted services have been around for a while, but as the Internet continues to extend its reach to new populations and devices, successful regionally-targeted services are emerging in smaller communities geographically and culturally distant from big, tech-friendly cities like San Francisco and Tokyo.
Vertical social networks, which serve specific occupations or hobbies, are also growing in popularity. By definition, users of these online community share certain interests, which can make them very valuable resources for service providers to cultivate. A service of interest to physicians, for example, will have a large potential audience in a vertical SNS for the medical community.
Another important trend is the increasing use of APIs to expose content and function on the Web as services to be consumed by others. In addition, some major community sites are considering providing open APIs to enable access to certain profile data, which can give service providers important information. With traditional commercial service providers embracing social networking sites instead of shunning them, expect the future to bring additional synergy between online and offline services, and increased integration between commercial services and social networks.
From service provider’s perspective, the biggest potential benefit of leveraging large communities is the huge number of potential users they present. Ideas reproduce memetically within online communities: as users discover them, they inform others, and the process repeats in a viral fashion. Many social networking sites are set up explicitly to accommodate this kind of viral propagation, through recommendation, tagging, and commenting mechanisms. By taking advantage of this, you can rapidly increase your user base and turn users into contributors if you like—the more users you get, the better your service will be. Commercial services have begun adopting the principles and approaches of social networks, but there’s still a cultural mismatch between the two worlds. The figure below depicts this as a gulf between services at the top and user communities at the bottom. To bridge the gulf, service providers must understand users’ needs and serve them in a manner appropriate to the context in which the user is making the request.
Of course, creating consumer oriented services involves multiple stakeholders, their requirements and architecting them . I expect my future contribution to guidance which describes key aspects of building consumer oriented services. It may include the following pillars.
- Architecture of Ad funded software
- Community support to generate network effects
- Service federation by Open API
- Service extensibility by hosting widgets
- Context awareness
- Data model for user generated content
I invite you to walk with me and take a journey to discover an ideal service which creates a true digital lifestyle.