As suspected, a lot of discussion at the recent shop.org Annual Summit was devoted to social networking and how it can be leveraged by e-retailers. Although much of the conversation revolved around adding SN tools to commerce sites (Customer Reviews being the most popular), many suggested leveraging external tools such as MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, etc. to drive both brand messaging and site traffic.
What worries me about this is not unlike the concerns I expressed recently about blogs — will the commercialization of these sites render them obsolete? The great thing about MySpace is that individuals are able to publish their thoughts and opinions, hook up with other like-minded people and have a place on the web to call their own. Sites like YouTube and Flickr flourish because the content is generated by average people, not companies, and as such it is fresh, interesting and exciting. If, on the other hand, every other MySpace page becomes a company promoting some product or agenda, or it becomes harder to find videos on YouTube that were uploaded purely for entertainment and for no other reason, these sites will lose thier cool, and thus their audience.
On a related note, I remember when I first started using eBay back in 1998 — there were phenomenal deals *everywhere*. It quickly became a daily stop on my surfing adventures. Sure, the overall assortment of product was not what it is today, but it didn’t matter. The site succeeded because it was something special in a world of sameness. Nowadays, I hardly ever use eBay because it is so cluttered with people who are more interested in profit margin than getting rid of their stuff. When I do look for something there, I regularly find items that are going for more than I could buy them new at Amazon or another web vendor. Great deals reminiscent of the past can be found occasionally, but they have become the exception rather than the rule.
Are MySpace, YouTube and Flickr next to suffer from oversaturation? If retailers continue to look for ways to profit from these wonderfully organic mediums, I fear that this will be the case.