Flow, an innovative peer to peer e-commerce solution from Canada, has now added semantic search technologies from hakia to power a what appears to be a walled garden social-commerce mobile platform. hakia Enterprise Semantic Search (HESS), has already been deployed to power answers in Flow’s social commerce ecosystem.
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Nourishing the Plants Within a Walled Garden
The idea of a so-called “walled garden” approach to social business online is nothing new. In fact, when observed from a certain vantage point, the most influential social systems on the web are in fact quasi-gardens anyhow. Facebook, even Google when all is said and done, would prefer their users stay within the garden to do their interacting, particularly purchasing. This is no secret, and internal search (particularly understanding) is fundamentally one of the most crucial aspects of “walled garden” approaches to the web. Facebook had to add Bing, right?
Well, apparently a new company in Canada is headed off into this commercial realm thinking of “first things first”. What I mean by this is, creating the security, search, and commercial tools necessary to power such a community. HESS is a modular tool developed by hakia for just such operations, but there’s more to this news than just internal search. But first let’s look at the walled garden approaches to business.
Back in 2007 Internet law professor Michael Geist called for Facebook and others to pull down their walls so that the whole world could benefit from the interaction. Despite his cries on BBC though, Facebook and later Google Plus decided to keep net citizens within their borders by providing even more utilities, games, interactivity, and so on. Why? The longer you stay on Facebook playing a game, the greater the chance you’ll buy something. It is one of those ecosystem things that is both inefficient and effective at the same time. Geist was barking up the wrong tree because there’s no money in a free web.
Now, suppose someone developed a walled garden for peer to peer interaction that’s all about commerce? Not so appealing you say? You’re wrong, Groupon proved it. Flow is not so transparent at the moment, but it’s pretty easy to see the Canadian company is tightly refining the relationships in between customers, their associations, and the businesses that want to sell to them. And, allowing all parties concerned to not only get the query answers they want via semantic search, but to learn from HESS as well, this is what you saw happen in late stage Facebook search dynamics. In fact Facebook is still working on ways to develop search, but it still sucks to be honest.
Back to the benefits of these “walled gardens”, we discover the biggest is the lack of competition. This is good for businesses and for clients when one fully understands the interplay. Competition still exists outside the garden, but inside providers and buyers are in much closer proximity. Look at this PDF that deals with these competitive advantages and the psychology of such systems. Such things as customer behavior, customer retention, the power of local positioning, community relationships, and even deployment are mentioned. This was back in 2006 too, so what you are seeing by way of Facebook and Google now, is in large part do to such synergies. The whole idea of a walled garden approach is to nourish community and commerce that might not otherwise thrive – like with the special care given in a secret garden.
Moving onward, companies such as Flow have new territory to discover, and to take advantage of. I mentioned Groupon earlier, bust as we all know that company’s momentum waned some. Now let me throw in another Internet brand, PayPal. Allowing people on the web very secure transactions with a barrier in between their banks and the world, this was one of the Internet’s greatest business innovations with only one major setback – it costs too much. Enter Flow (or some other garden) a system that is cash based, and where the costs of competition are lowered, where all the middle people are cut out….
The intuitive reader will paint their own peer to peer buying and selling matrix here, but read what William Cockburn , Executive Director of Flow said about HESS and the search aspects of their
“We believe that semantic search will facilitate the next evolution in data delivery, namely, a powerful engine to deliver relevance, context, interpretive cultural lexicon and imagery targeted by a user’s request. We believe this is a fundamental practical requirement for people to find answers in a global marketplace… the who, what, where, why and when from their search.”
Plugging products into our little “sales garden of eden”, this is the simple part of a Flow business success. Without taxing users’ payouts, or business’ revenues straight up, there’s a huge savings. Affording users off all kinds a secure and economical marketplace, Flow essentially becomes Amazon but social. Factor in search that learns or understands, and other tools, for mobile, and you have the Holy Grail of 21st century marketing and buying, the illusive “easy button” most demographics out there long for.
And. Well, there’s a bunch of these, not the least of which is cutting the marketers out of the equation for the most part. Sadly, our company does marketing, but change is inevitable and good. What if, for instance, Flow created a toolset for businesses and customers for doing all that stuff marketing and sales peeps do? Okay, I know three marketers just dropped dead, but let me amplify the while “search” aspect here.
The Founder and CEO of hakia, Dr. Riza Berkan (left) says,“HESS provides the technological and ontological resources that enable a new dimension to search and content analysis applications in the current marketplace.”
Lawrence Brickman is the founder and Managing Partner at CloverLeaf Digital, he wrote the paper I mentioned earlier. Speaking about the difficulty of finding local information, Brinkman highlights back in 2006, the power of powerful search within walled gardens:
“Just as the need for scale for many contemporary media outlets has proven to be their weakness in providing local content – one of the strengths of the walled garden is proving to be its ability to efficiently provide local content to local communities.”
I signed up for Flow, we will speak with their people next week, but in the interim it is not really necessary to exactly understand what’s behind the walls here, it’s only necessary to understand what Flow in conjunction with the ideas I’ve mentioned can be. (remember I said this) Some say walled garden approaches to social are wrong, limiting somehow users from the free flow of information. This is lunacy. What the right walled garden can do is reduce the noise. Remember, you can still Google or Yahoo! anything outside for comparison.
Think of this, on Amazon there is no competition, mental or otherwise, but sometimes finding things can be a pain. How many times do you think buyers purchased a CD from Amazon, only to have it shipped from 2000 miles away? (see example below) How many times was the same CD 2 miles away? Expand upon this one conceptual, and Flow and other tight ecosystems make a lot of sense. We need to ask ourselves; “Just how efficient and economical are the choice we are presented with, really?”
The right search can power your vision, wouldn’t you say? In the end, wall gardens or Google search, it’s all about filtering. The big question is, “which filtering mechanism is best?” Every search mechanism in the world tries to create its own filtering walls. Think about it.
To learn more about what semantic search really is, hakia provides a lot of insight here. The point being, there’s a lot of confusion and misinformation about what such technologies can and cannot do. A much more in depth discussion of the ontological aspects of true semantic search is carried out here (PDF), and of course Wikipedia offers a general informative here.