Social Networks: New Age Solution to Problems of the Old Economy

I’m a curmudgeon, a hard headed analyst. I compete with much larger agencies to help companies find alternative product strategies when first efforts are running out of steam. I point out weaknesses and overlooked opportunities, find partners, and debunk shoddy market volume figures proffered by staff in order to keep projects funded, or to justify their existence of such. My advice is often ignored – until much later after my contract is long over. That’s when they dredge up my reports and presentations and go over them with a highlighter.

Strategies for Social Media, in particular, have been a challenge when soft pedaling my services in the outreach phase. Companies want to just jump in and create systems from whole cloth, offer white box services, or create Facebook apps – all without a thought as to what interactions they are trying to foster, who they are endeavoring to connect or enable, or what model they are trying to exploit. Forget any reality checks for monetization, even in the soft sense of labor savings or process streamlining.

No, when an organization has made up its mind, the strategic issues are often put aside, and the project proceeds apace to implementation. Bad for me, good for the latest crop of Social Media systems designers; all power to them. We will see how it shakes out, long term.

But I am a staunch advocate of applying New Age solutions to Old Economy problems.

My first exposure to the notion of Social Networks, Blogs, FOAF, Tags, and the like, was from a true visionary, way back in 2004. Kingsley Idehen, CEO of the under-reported and under appreciated OpenLink Software. Kingsley is a genius and a technological powerhouse, while Virtuoso Universal Server beats other web databases and middleware hands down, not to mention OpenLink Data Spaces as the solid outcome of social media, semantic web enabling technologies that properly leverage the power of Virtuoso.

The foregoing was not a shameless plug for a respected colleague, but an introduction to the idea that new solutions should be prime fodder for old problems. Kingsley understands this and he helped me to understand this paradigm when it was still a very fresh and not well understood concept. This was years before Facebook.

I approached OpenLink about a problem and opportunity in the independent automotive trades such as towing and mobile locksmithing. The background of the problem is interesting, and is my mission regarding extended efforts to fund it as a venture or project, but the real message here is as follows:

  1. Long before the buzz, social networks existed as natural, self-evolving ecosystems in the service sector – product service, skilled trades, artisans, professional services.
  2. The mad rush to ‘horizontalize’ and ‘advert-monetize’ Facebook style systems is fine, but is diverting much well deserved attention from these mature markets which are models of living networks of social relationships.
  3. As much as I hate the terms Web10 and Web20, I have to admit that there is a real difference to be appreciated in the technology that might have served in the 1999-2004 time frame and now.
  4. The back end has matured, the front end is richer, the mobile tools repertoire is altogether fresh and virtually unrecognizable from a few years ago.
  5. Some things the pundits totally missed: AppXchange, others, the sure and steady migration of what once were enterprise only tools to free and inexpensive platforms –
  6. Open Source moves to mainstream; Google releases a fully fledged Mobile OS.

All of the above ripens the environment for preexisting social networks to amplify their models using technology that is becoming almost ubiquitous. What’s holding them back is the lack of interest in the blue collar trades that soldier on without new economy advocates to give them true social networks of the Web20 and Web30 (whatever that is) world.

Shall we take an example of the old economy that has been overlooked by the frenzied evangelists of social networking?

Where to start?

Shall we say, free-lance dispatching for independent towing, mobile glass installers, and mobile locksmiths? Ah…yes:

As outlined in the ThruDispatch pitch slides, the social model for the independent automotive trades is a ‘native social model’. Independent towing owner / operators use a natural itinerant model to visit external agencies, such as police departments, parking lots, auto dealers, car auctions, etc.

These weary pilgrims wend their way through their local area, seeking to add clients to their work slate. They bank on their network to call them and requests towing (or locksmithing or auto glass repair), on an as needed basis. They have no intelligent work-flow. They might be heading in the wrong direction when a new job comes in. They are not exploiting the best that mobile technology could offer them.

Along with the, ‘just visiting’ model, itinerant mobile service workers are subject to external preemption, where casually affiliated agencies may use an alternate provider, gather lists of allied trade acquaintances, and join in the general free-for-all that is the independent services trade. It’s a game of churn, and often the best candidate (selected for proximity, reputation, or capacity), is never considered due to the opacity of the model.

How would a social networking model preserve the best of the status quo for itinerant mobile services, while extending and enabling better visibility to enhance job/ price matching, and optimize work flow for both the job submitters and those who execute them?

Here are some ideas covered in greater detail in the ThruDispatch plan:

  • Multi-Cast open jobs with cost and time parameters to a sub selection of geographically appropriate mobile subscribers
  • Create a pre-execution view (for job submitter) of all possible job executors, with their ratings and merit figures
  • Create a ‘Virtual Dispatcher” that monitors the progress of jobs in the execution queue, so that non-progessing jobs can be withdrawn and re-assigned, or so that escalating levels of alert reminders can be sent to keep the original executor on track.
  • Allow overlays and applications that take the basic fleet model, and extend it to include the composition of virtual fleets, made up of many independents.
  • Allow for the placement of blocks of future job orders that can bid on at a discount, in exchange for demand predictability, and payment advances that are carried by the portal operators, or external financiers.This is a start, and a long article already. Next time – more on the actual model of interactions between job submitters and executors.

If the new age social networks, VC’s, and mobile platform providers would give this model the time of day regarding partnerships or funding, this cohort of 3.5 million lone wolves would be worth $20 a month in per subscriber fees, additional revenue from handling their billing through card services, and other lucrative channels. What’s the hangup?