Very simple: make it possible to loan a digital book to a friend. Not authorize the same book simultaneously across multiple computers on the same account, but actually de-auth it from one and give it to someone else.
IMHO the first service to do this becomes the dominant eReader format and here’s why: this is the last inadequacy that still drives people like myself to purchase physical books. The reading experience of eReaders has become adequate in every other respect and has other added advantages like search, portability, convenience of sync across multiple devices, instant gratification of being able to download immediately, etc.
I use the Mac client to read Kindle books now and I’ve tinkered with the Apple iBooks. Both are comparable but neither offers this ability to pass a book on after you read it. If there were limitless lending then it could be argued that it would wreck the eBook market and create a secondary blackmarket of people scalping loaned eBooks. But it would also cement that provider’s eBook format as the dominant format and force everyone get an account on their system. Because they still control the auth/de-auth lending process they could mitigate this problem by throttling the frequency or absolute number of times a book could be lent.
This opens a lot of doors. A lot more people would start buying eBooks knowing they could later loan them (for me personally there would never be reason to purchase a physical book again). Once everyone is using their format they make it so easy to purchase new books that whatever sales they lose from people passing on a loaned copy would be more than made up for in new eBook sales. They gain the opportunity to sell into a massive new base of account holders who are lured in initially by the prospect of a free book loan from a friend who already has an account. And they get a HUGE amount of useful data from tracking the reading behaviors and the lineage of lending. Lastly, they enable a crazy new capability if they make it so annotations can be separated from the lent copy and shared across other copies. For instance I would love to be able to subscribe to Derek Sivers’ book markups and flip on his annotations to see the notes he made while I’m reading one of the books on his list. This type of “co-reading” makes it possible to read not just the author’s message but select people’s takeaways inline.
With the release of iTunes 10 and the Ping service, Apple has finally added a social layer to its media player. I would expect eventually the social layer which is being rolled out around music will extend to all forms of their digital content be it a book, movie, TV show, song, podcast, or whatever comes next. Once the loaning capability is baked in, game over. Amazon should preemptively strike and enable this for all current Kindle owners. Turn all the old eBooks currently collecting dust on the proverbial digital shelf into a powerful, free viral campaign for its current subscribers to signup their friends.
Is there a flaw in this strategy or does this seem like an obvious move to anyone else?
Check out the full list of Google services and then think about one that’s not on there now but that could be in a big way: Google Soulmate Finder. If you subscribe to the notions that a) there’s a person out there who uniquely complements you and b) it’s possible to qualify/quantify experiences, traits & behaviors to identify that person and match him/her to you, then Google is in probably the best position of anyone to help you find your soul mate.
Here are the four main reasons why they could (and may choose to at some point) pull this off:
- Hands down they have the most comprehensive, indexable data set of both explicit and implicit behavioral, personality and intention info in the world. And they have it for a huge population. Folks drink the Google Koolaid in varying degrees (I would be best classified as an intravenous Google Koolaid consumer at this point) but for even the people who only use search, they have access to an incredible amount of material that could be mined for insight into what makes one tick. For instance, for users of Gmail & Google Apps they know: where you’ve been, what you care about, who you correspond with, activities that define you, etc.
- Their core expertise is in serving relevant results – they rule at pattern matching and developing algorithms that weight results based on what’s working. Their whole search business revolves around improving the quality of results that are delivered and they have more expertise than anyone on refining results via empirical data.
- Were they to offer a matchmaking service they would have access to a pretty interesting feedback loop by virtue of knowing how things worked out. Their matches might suck at first but pretty quickly the AI could validate which algorithms yielded successful results because they’d know which people stayed together. Other matchmaking services have to rely upon explicit input from the participants to know how well the suggestions worked – Google has data that gives them this implicitly. That means the speed and accuracy with which they could iterate their algorithms isn’t gated by reliance upon explicit feedback from participants.
- They’re motivated to do things that draw in new users & drive increased usage across all services. Their stated goal is to index the world’s info and make it more accessible. Anything they can do that gets more people hooked on using their services helps their cause. The matchmaking service would be a killer app for both attracting new people and getting existing ones to further embrace all the Google services. If they reliably demonstrated a string of successes in matching people, I guarantee you’d see a bunch of the people that currently subscribe to paid dating sites flock to the Google equivalent if it were a) free and b) more effective. Provided Google sold the story well about “the more you do on our system, the better the quality of our matches will be,” those new users would be heavily motivated to go all-in on using Google services. They would pick up not just new users but die-hard ones motivated by the promise of finding their soulmate.
Now my hunch is that a significant countervailing force here that prevents them from doing this now is the “creepiness factor.” It would make it all too real how much they truly know about you if they were to offer this service today and it might actually have a detrimental effect of driving users to defect from their service. This is definitely something that changes with the times though, we’ve seen the “boiling frog comfort” effect in the last four years with Facebook. Kids growing up today will have never known life without exposing everything via social networks and may be more comfortable with this type of service. At any rate, if you see a heart icon and the “Google Matchmaker” app appear on Google labs, you heard the prediction here first ;-)