E-commerce, meet your successor: Knowledge commerce

The new guiding force is not buyer beware, it's seller behave. Let's kiss off the rip off.
Written by Dana Gardner, Contributor on

You don't hear much about e-commerce anymore. Yet the replacement vision has yet to be well defined. I think I'll take a stab at it.

Seems to me we're now well on the way to knowledge commerce. The vision is that anyone, anytime, just about anywhere can get all the relevant information they need when they are seeking just about anything.

A secondary aspect to the vision is that once a prospective seeker has the full knowledge and visibility into what it is they want to purchase, that they can immediately act on it -- to make the bid or outright purchase, same as anyone else, no strings attached, to gain from the investment fairly and productively as soon as possible at any scale. Just click. More real-time auctions and supply chain automation, please.

The last element of the knowledge commerce cycle I envision is that once any buyer -- be it a business, family, individual or government -- has attained and implemented the purchase -- be it a service, product (or both) -- that they with near total automation (perhaps anonymously) add their experiential input on the activity and result. Consequently, for each purchase of anything, the next prospective buyer should find the process easier, and be acting more wisely from more attainable knowledge, based on the experience and sharing of any previous buyer.

With due respect to Adam Smith, the Chicago School, and eBay, a lot of this vision is already in place and has been an ongoing process of market forces refinement for hundreds of years. However, it is still not comprehensive, easy, nor complete. Feedback loops only exist within closed systems. The playing field is still not level. In order to work, the realization of the vision needs to breed outside of any closed command-and-control structure. Yet it needs to be organic globally.

I believe we are on the cusp -- based on the changes afoot with the Web, micro media, Wiki-like knowledge sharing, advanced search, viral marketing, open source, and the anthropologic behaviorial adaptation and exploitation of these means -- to reaching a new economic order. Soon, thanks to open commerce and low-cost communications, the fair sharing can scale. The net result is that commerce (and, at essence, learning), in all its glorious permutations, is no longer based on the guiding force of buyer beware. With full visibility into all the relevant knowledge about commerce at any scale, the new guiding force is seller behave. Let's kiss off the rip off.

Again, this notion of eliminating friction in the process of market activity is ages old. But the means of attaining friction-less and enlightened commerce at low or no cost to the masses remains revolutionary. The pillars to support this vision of a monumental smear of grease on economic skids are in place, they are just not coordinated. The rub remains how to coordinate and be organic, too, so that no one games the game.

The currently available support structure to knowledge commerce includes, but is not limited to, the Web, blogosphere, mass media, long tail micro-media, attention economy, eBay, globalization, online search, ecommerce, RSS, supply chain automation, newsgroups, SOA, open source, instant messaging, mobile telecommunications, shared calendars, cookies -- oh, hell, just about everything that can be part of the grand ubiquitous standardized digital network we collectively refer to as pertaining to or part of the freely accessed Internet/intranet.

Now, there are a lot of people, families, tribes, monarchs, businesses, cabals, and nations that make a lot of money off of friction amid economic activities. Sometimes only the tiniest amount of friction to the largest economic activities makes for the biggest, surest windfalls. Sometimes withholding knowledge and sharing it sparingly makes a lot of money for the few priveledged participants. The scale for applied friction goes down to a transaction between two on a barter.

Indeed, on a Darwinian level, to the seller, a dumb buyer is a good buyer. To attain an existential nature above random natural selection by making it open and enlightened selection is disruptive. Disruption is unpleasant, fortunes will be marred, and so many have been and will fight knowledge commerce tooth and nail.

But the tremendously successful trend of the last 300 years, both for personal as well as market liberty, has been to favor the reduction of knowledge friction -- that there will be more total winners down to the lone participant (with 25 cents to spend!) if the collective pie is free to grow and its constituents to learn. Level the field, open the kimono, and greatest opportunity -- if we remove the barriers to knowledge -- is available to the most people. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I think this is what some leaders today think of as democracy, but it's quite a bit more than that if it works broadly and fairly. And it can work broadly and fairly amid many kinds of political structures, particularly as those structures soon seem to twist to serve the higher goals of open opportunity, as we've seen in China.

I'm still working on the vision of how to make my pure knowledge commerce vision a reality. I suppose as an IT industry analyst, blogger, and podcaster that that is a large part of my job, and it sure makes getting out of bed early easy. Yet the stakes for attaining knowledge commerce are huge, and the results should be lasting. We're lucky to be living at a time when more of us can have an impact on the direction and pace of knowledge commerce and the fruits of liberty, enlightenment, and prosperity that it affords.

All the guessing about Google's ambitions, handicapping the vendor sports, and trying to best market SOA misses the larger point. And that is that open knowledge commerce hamstrings the law of the jungle when it comes to buying and selling, finally. The last bastion where might-is-right is not legally contested is in market economics, where competition at almost any ferocity is encouraged as the road to efficiency, the only way, a necessary evil.

I think we can now in the Web 2.0 era see a practical other way, a refinement of competition into a meritocratic bazaar. A wise bidding process is better and more efficient than a rip-offocracy, where duping the buyer is still richly rewarded, and buyer beware. And so on. Technology is now broadly allowing open access into almost any pecuniary process any where. Competition without such full knowledge by all parties is therefore proven inefficient, a handicap, to be avoided by the smart money. Full disclosure as economic leveler is finally possible.

The bottom line on pure knowledge commerce is that we are closer than ever to an essential summit in the full human drama. Indeed, Pandora may be so far out of the box on open access to information that my vision of knoweldge commerce is inevitable. The goal then is to make the total vision happen as quickly as possible so that the tide rises well and broadly to substantially lift all boats, so that the Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence, Emancipation Proclamation, Fair Deal, New Deal, and Laffer Curve (sorry for my Western-oriented parochialism) can be built upon once more, to attain something larger and better than any person, company, nation, or economic system.

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