Saturday, January 14, 2006

The monty haul approach to Web 2.0

The interview I did on Tuesday with Chris Tolles for is now archived as an MP3, downloadable for your listening pleasure (or pain). Don't be alarmed by the ad about two-thirds through, that's a different Monty they're all singing about.

Chris caught me in the middle of some long-brewing thoughts about the structure of Tinfinger, so some of the answers I gave are a bit vague since I am still thinking them through. A bit of background from the archives on the subjects of discussion:

One thing I mentioned was the concept of revenue sharing, users getting a "cut" of advertising revenues for ads placed next to their content, as I blogged about previously. Since that interview I've had a bit of a rethink about that model and decided that it needs something a little different. Instead of a ratio of ads which goes up as you contribute more, I think it would be far simpler to award people a certain number of ad impressions.

The inspiration for this, as I suspect will be true for most decisions as time goes on for Tinfinger, comes from the MMOG world. There are only a few types of rewards which MMOG players
keep playing for, and one of them is gold. I see ad impressions as fulfilling the same role as gold in a MMOG: as a currency. Tinfinger will try to use ad impressions as the ultimate micropayment. Those in the industry know that the history of the concept of micropayments on the Web is littered with spectacular failures, but what can be more valuable in this day and age than ad impressions? Not only are they the most granular - one ad impression is virtually equal to nothing - but everybody wants them.

Part of the beauty of ad impressions (AIs) as a currency is that publishers don't have to handle them. All that is required from your end is to send the user's publisher ID to the ad agency (Google, Adbrite, Chitika, Yahoo or Microsoft) as part of your page code. The agency pays the user, provides stats and deals with customer service. In our case, where we'll be using AIs to pay users for providing a service to us, we're effectively outsourcing payroll for virtual employees onto the ad agencies.

This AI-as-currency approach lends itself very easily to delving further into the MMOG milieu. Tinfinger users will be presented with a list of "quests" which they can fulfil to earn AIs, and/or gain reputation. Reputation is the second main achievement indicator in MMOGs, with the other ones being possessions (e.g. +12 Sword of Vorpal Burninating) and experience which is manifested in greater personal powers. Reputation is an easy one to translate to the Web world, since eBay has done such a good job making it essential to e-commerce transactions such as those Tinfinger will host for artists and writers. Possessions... well, I guess there's an opportunity to implement a trade-in system for AIs to buy products from a list of preferred suppliers, similar to frequent flyer point schemes (and not just mugs with our logo on it!). Experience is what will earn you the ability to wield power over the other site users in your fan spaces, as explained in the interview.

So I realise they don't teach that stuff in the business school at Stanford, but the Yahoo and Google guys weren't from the business school as far as I know. They were geeks, like me (and probably you unless you're my mum). Who's to say a Web site built like a MMOG wouldn't work? It will be fun to find out.


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