Imagine someone approached you on the street, opened his coat and, displaying his pendant range of Rolexes, said, “PSST! Wanna buy a watch?” Would you buy one? Probably not, even at a discount. Why? Because you don’t know the guy.
There’s not a lot of difference between this example and everyday e-commerce dealings. In the earliest days of the world wide web, word of mouth was an enterprise’s strongest and cheapest promoter. People trusted each other more than advertisements. The trend disappeared as Internet-user numbers increased. But now the trend is on its way back again, in a new form: uTOK.com.
Invented in Israel, which also created the ICQ idea, uTOK is based on the principle of giving private people a public voice. Thirdvoice.com was a first-generation example of this principle. It allowed the expression of individual opinion through the plastering of notes on any site. uTOK goes further by establishing communities around users’ opinions.
Imagine, for example, visiting the White House web site. If you were using uTOK, a browser companion would appear next to the site informing you that 132 users had offered as many comments about President Clinton. The comments would not be placed on the site but in a separate window. The interesting result would be that users could share their opinions about Clinton.
A real-time pool makes it possible for individuals to create questionnaires to which other users can respond. Just three months after its first appearance on the Internet, uTOK already represents more than 700 small communities, created by the airing and sharing of opinions.
And the concept has already begun to show a trend which might inspire a new style of online promotion. Several of the more than twenty thousand sites connected to uTOK contain real-time pools asking users’ opinions on products. Users ask users what they think. The high number of users, and each user’s existing relationship to certain uTOK communities, verifies that advertisers themselves aren’t answering the questions. It’s the users who are having their say.
This leads me back to the Rolex man. Not many would risk buying one of his watches on the strength of their own judgment. But if two thousand people invested in his wares, their concerted and demonstrated opinion would allow an individual to feel justified in making a similar investment.
The more sites being born on the Internet, the more promises advertisers will claim for their products and the more information customers will need in order to make choices.
You might list a plethora of printers, for example, but apart from the brand names attached to them, the differences between them might be minimal. What would make you choose one printer over another? If you don’t have a brand preference, the opinions of other users may sway your choice.
This is why concepts like uTOK will be the next bright lights on the Internet scene. They offer a way of branding products that lets the users do the branding.