Online in the Wild

I'm 26 years old now and ever since I can remember, computers have been billed as "the next big thing" in the way that we will integrate it with our daily lives. And so it has too; computers are being used by more people, doing more different things than they did at any given stage in the past.

In the last couple of years, the internet has taken over that moniker from "computers". We've seen platforms like Facebook, Twitter & Foursquare that have managed to integrate itself into our daily lives and actually change some of our social behaviour. For just a minute, consider how much time you spent online and how much of that time actually applies to physical, real-world stuff that you're doing: communicating, shopping, doing business etc.

One thing that is changing at a rapid rate at the moment, is the attractiveness of the internet to the mainstream masses. Before some of the things that the early adopters were doing online, were considered too "geeky" for the Average Joe Public. It kinda felt like if you were working online in some way, then you'd be the only type of person interested in some of these products & services. But this perception has changed significantly, since new online(-based) ventures have started to disrupt traditional industries. 

Seeing Uber, the luxury, personalized car service, raise another $32m in funding reminded me of how many great new ideas are truly disruptingthe  traditional status quo for transportation. I'm then quickly reminded of Hipmunk, who has done the same for travel booking, and AirBnB, who have revolutionized accommodation. This is online in the wild.

I'm excited to see this trend continuing and see a few more traditional industries disrupted.


The Copycat Stagnation

The WordPress ecosystem is rife with copycats and we're severely lacking a couple of unique ideas. Due to the popularity of WordPress and the obvious success that designers / developers and businesses have experienced in recent years, many more are flocking to the platform to make a quick buck. Which would've been absolutely fantastic for all those involved, except that these newcomers are not bringing much newness to the table.

In every industry where businesses have experienced significant success, you'll find a lot of "late-adopters" trying to get in on the gold rush. I believe that WordPress is still in its infancy as a ecosystem and as a result I think its a very viable decision for a newcomer to try enter the industry.

The supposed gold rush is most definitely not over and whilst the established players will continue to reap the rewards of being first movers, there is still space for newcomers to make a name for themselves. Yes, it is becoming harder and harder for a newcomer to gain traction when starting out, but it is most definitely still possible.

My problem is that none of these newcomers are bringing any new ideas to the table; instead they have preferred a strategy of emulating the success of the bigger players in the industry. At WooThemes we've often been amused at the varying attempts of newcomers to copy our brand / model / product strategy and yet we're still to be knocked of our perch. I don't say that in an arrogant way, but there's no way that Theme Company A can be as good a WooThemes as WooThemes itself will be. Uniqueness would've however served them much, much better.

To explain this in a non-WordPress context, I love the strategy that the so-hot-right-now flight search engine, Hipmunk, have taken since launch. When they launched, there were many similar services out there, yet they pulled the proverbial rabbit from a hat in tackling a known problem in a very unique way. They Hipmunk'd a whole industry as a result.

I think the whole WordPress community can do with more Hipmunking and less copying.

At WooThemes we've certainly tried to be first movers in a few spaces. Two of these that stand out (to me) are our contribution to the WordPress core with Menu's and all the work we've done to create Tumblr-like functionality in WordPress (which has been a bit of a passion project for me personally).

Another WordPress business that I think has achieved a similar level of first-moving uniqueness is Gravity Forms, which has truly revolutionized any kind of form in WordPress and become a must-have plugin for 99% of new WordPress installations. In a similar way, the "plugin + hosted service" model implemented by VaultPress or ScribeSEO is to be lauded for doing things differently (and being great at what they do of course).

These are the kinda ideas that I believe will add value to the ecosystem and continue to be a driver of innovation in the community. Copycats on the other hand simply dilute the offerings available, which in turn just makes the initial (purchasing) decision that much harder for inexperienced users.


9 Ways To Disrupt And "Hipmunk" An Industry

A couple of quotes from this which I loved...

Some things are just a pain and never ever change. The industries that can be hipmunked are ones that you repeatedly ask yourself "Why hasn't anyone made this better?"

One of the best ways to make a product enjoyable and easy to use is with an interface that is simple+clean. Give the user what they want, the bare essentials, and make the information easy to digest. It's not about being the prettiest either.

Don't be afraid to call out your competitor and wage war. You should be respectful of course, but it's okay to stir the pot.

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