So are price comparison sites really helpful?

Companies like Money Supermarket, Go Compare, Compare the Market and now Google products and the Amazon price compare app have made the price comparison market look very attractive and full of potential; and who can forget for annoyingly teasing but highly memorable meerkat ads from Compare the Market and opera ads from Go Compare? At the same time, a boom in the affiliation industry with some technology has helped companies (like Kelkoo, CIAO and now famously Kayak) to build a business around purely on online price comparison.
However, real questions are, is the price comparison industry really helping consumer, can they really find the best prices and products, do consumers really do price comparison before they buy stuff, and is the cheapest price the only thing that matters to consumers?

The answers lie in the price comparison engine’s ability to integrate content from all the suppliers from their given industry. If they don’t have all suppliers on-board, it might not give a true picture to end users, but the challenge for the comparison businesses is that their suppliers are not very keen to put their product/content information up against their competitors, especially when price is not their USP! (For example, companies like Direct Line and Aviva are not keen to share their content.)

In addition, these engines face huge problems due to bad content integrations, as suppliers don’t spend much time or resources to maintain their data for price engines, so data quickly becomes outdated! Plus the success of review engines like Trip Advisor and Amazon Reviews suggests that reviews and ratings do play big role before people buy, especially for pricy things! And to certain extend, Kelkoo and CIAO got some bad PR due to their inability to handle dead content and a lack of quality reviews!
So what can the technology industry do to solve this problem? I think Kayak and now TikBuzz have come up with a great technology for the travel industry, where everything is runtime and outdated content is left out. Trip advisor and Amazon have built marketplace and affiliation links on top of their review contents, which is working too! And traditional and vertical market engines like Go Compare, Compare the Market and Money Supermarket will keep building their business on tightly coupled supplier relationships and big marketing budgets.

Overall , knowing that consumers like to compare and take recommendations from each other, there is a scope for a technologist to come up with lean and mean technology solutions for various industries to give consumer quality choice with a holistic view – which must become pre-cursor to any buying!

One Billion Facebook users not enough to make $100bn company

Congratulations to Facebook on reaching one billion users milestone, this is undoubtedly an huge achievement and must be accoladed whole heartedly!

But I might be wrong, it seems to me that Zuckerberg has carried away with sheer number of users and good words from a stalwart like Steve Jobs about his stubbornness to remain product focussed and not interest based revenue-centric, and although he ended up building the best social network platform, so far he has failed to leverage it for shareholders (shares are already down by 40+%).

And when he really tried to please them by launching various FB apps and bombarding users with ads, sponsored status and promoted stories, users become disgruntled about a timeline so full of commercial page links that they have become more listener than participant, and are confused as to why they need so many apps to manage their accounts!

So what exactly went wrong with Facebook? I think, they followed Apple theory too religiously; they built beautiful product (like all iProducts) and then tried to control their ecosystem (Like App Store) in order to monetise it – but can Facebook really follow a purely Apple model?
I don’t think so. Why? Firstly, they don’t have ‘must have’ products for users – social engagement can be substituted or complimented by email, SMS, phone, or via rival networks. Users of iPhones and iPads have no choice but to use Apple by-products, only be available on their devices, including the highly deprecated iMap on IOS6! Whereas they have many choices and no compulsion when it comes to using Facebook and its applications.

In other words, Facebook can’t really push things on their users; it should try to build on what is already working, like Zynga games, Spotify music sharing, or the recently launched Facebook Gift!

I think Facebook Gifts are a great idea and can replace the way we do transactions, specially buying products for family, friends and loved ones – because stats suggests 80+% of us like to buy things from word of mouth recommendations or friends’ suggestions – and there is no better place than Facebook to get recommendations from friends.

In summary Facebook needs to build products with tightly coupled commerce ability not push advertising like pages you may like, sponsored posts or sponsored stories. Along with Facebook gifts (i.e. currency, or credit) let’s build a more open ecosystem for developers so that Zynga- and Spotify-like companies can build really lucrative communities to pour some money in and make Facebook a $100bn company!