On Friday Om Malik put up an interesting post about how small companies can now fully benefit from the internet in a way that was once open to only companies at greater scale.
In his article Om namechecks Moocards (mini “personal” cards, personalized with your pictures or avatars), Spreadshirt and Skinny Corp/Threadless (both user created and curated t-shirt retailers), JPG magazine (print photography magazine, with user created and curated photos), and CastingWords (marketplace for audio to text transcription).
The other interesting thread through these companies is that they all connect the online and the offline.
To some extent, almost all e-commerce companies connect the online (transaction) with the offline (fulfillment). Most retailers instinctively grasped that the internet was just a new channel, and today the Internet Retailer top 500 is dominated by multichannel retailers who started in bricks and mortar or catalogs. Small business entrepreneurs running everything from hardware stores to strip mall blinds stores have grasped the opportunity that the internet represents, and launched profitable businesses online doing tens of millions in revenue. We’ve even seen movement the other way, with e-tailers sending catalogs or even opening stores.
Marketers too have known instinctively that they need to blend their online and offline campaigns together. From the earliest days of the internet, AOL partners were required to add their “AOL Keyword” to their offline advertising, and when I was at Citysearch in ’96, one of the things we made sure to tell our small business customers was to put their URLs in their business cards, menus, letterhead and other paraphernalia. Today you’ll be hard pressed to find an ad in a magazine or on a billboard that doesn’t include a URL.
Furthermore, manufacturers, who are one step removed from their consumers, are starting to use the internet to connect directly with their end users. I’ve posted in the past about how companies such as General Mills (cereal), Ganz (plush toys) and Mattel (Barbie) have all set up casual immersive worlds where their endusers can connect with these brands and each other.
Mobile access to the internet via cellphones is further blurring the distinction between online and offline companies. Photo mobile blogging sites like Fotolog and Radar continue to grow, with Fotolog currently at an Alexa rank of 24th in the world. Cell phone users are using their mobile phones to snap pictures of 2d barcodes to access information about the real world, to get alerts of sales in the mall that they are in, or to keep track of their spending.
I think we’ll be seeing an increasing blurring between online and offline as the internet becomes more of the fabric of people’s daily lives. More examples of companies who are blurring this line are welcome in comments.