Over the past 2 years I have seen many social bargain hunting sites launch. Most of them had very distinct features and quality design. Yet their flawed marketing strategy made their life very short. If I were to list a few you would most likely have to admit that you never heard the names.
The new kids on the block have been more fortunate in the sense that they started when Digg was already popular and many Internet users have adopted the idea so well that they were not shy digging things anymore. However if you look closely at these websites you will notice that they all suffer from the same problem: they have not built an active community — a community of users who would find and digg up the deals — the kind of community that only FatWallet and SlickDeals currently have.
This is not surprising at all. Bargain hunting is a very narrow niche. It took Digg over a year to become as popular as it is. It will take even longer for these sites if they follow the Digg model.
Social bargain hunting is plagued
We all know that Digg is not community driven in the sense that less than 1% of users control most of the front page news. This is partially due to the algorithms Digg has put in place to favor the top submitters but mostly due to the fact that only a small percentage of users is capable of devoting themselves to the long hours of sifting through the news looking for that Digg-worthy scandal story.
It is obvious that all of the bargain hunting sites currently don’t have even a fraction of the half a million Digg users. I will bet my car that the owners of these sites keep them on life support by searching and submitting deals daily and maybe even by manipulating the ratings to bring the most promising offers to the top for better visibility (for that same reason these websites usually don’t show who voted for the deals. Some don’t even show who submits the deals, at least not on the front page).
The conclusion — social element is there mostly to satisfy your feeling of freedom, to feed your desire to be in control, to create an illusion that you can make a difference. At this time the social part doesn’t do a good job of building a supply of fresh quality submissions for these websites.
How can this be fixed? What can be changed to make the system work? What will compensate for the lack of active users?
It sounds like Modoshi has the solution.
Who are the folks that submit news to Digg? They are mostly teens — school children and college students. They have a very strong feeling of community, they have the time and curiosity to try new things, they are willing to do it for free or for a very small pay. Modoshi is a community where users who submit or pick the best deals are financially compensated. Right now each user only has one shot a day at winning the two daily prizes — $5 for submitting a new deal and $5 for digging an existing one — however as the site growth the prizes will grow as well, according to Modoshi co-founder Vaishali Anga. $10 a day doesn’t sound a lot at all however keep in mind that Netscape was able to sway the top Digg users with a mere $1000 a month — and working for Netscape sounds like a full time job to me.
This is not all however. With each new deal the submitter has to verify 3 existing deals for accuracy. This just sounds like a terrific idea! Once the bugs are worked out the only thing that Vaishali will have to worry about is that his servers are capable to support the crowds of teens who will flock to play the game and earn that penny towards next Wii. By the way, about Wii, the top Modoshi user in January will get one for free — it is another contest the team is running and the prize selection only proves my guess at what the target age is. Seriously though enforcing verification should hugely improve the overall deals quality and as the result will make the site more attractive to those who come to use those deals.
Different game requires different rules
According to Vaishali when Modoshi launched in November it “started on the premise that it was high time contributors to the Internet community in general (who) got a share of the revenue”. The team quickly abandoned the concept though. “Pricier items such as TV etc got unfair advantage. Deal (submission) was based primarily on commissions, not quality”. The contests in contrast provide “a uniform model irrespective of what deal is posted, be it a $10 toy or $1000 hdtv”. Makes a lot of sense to me!
Now what about that rank that social sites display next to each entry? It usually more or less reflects the number of votes the entry accumulated. It makes perfect sense in the Digg case — how else can you judge the value of a news story? It sounds like for shopping deals you could use more data to calculate that number. The item price (compared to the average price for similar items), the item popularity (number of clicks or sales it produces), the submitter credibility — all of these can be factored in to compute the deal rank. Isn’t it brilliant? I wonder why no one else has done it before?
I have been playing with Modoshi over the past month or so and the more I play the stronger the feeling is that they have implemented the best marketing strategy to make a social bargain hunting site a success. I am not saying they are already the best — the site navigation and functionality could be improved quite a bit — but they currently have the best bets at coming out the leader. Sorry DealsPlus, you are not my favorite any more. ;-)