Friday, April 15, 2005

Yub-a-Nub-Dub, a Mall in the Web

Shopping on the Web is far from new, and social networking (see a previous SNS) is becoming commonplace. But startup Yub has combined the two to create a virtual mall for people to hang out at, meet others, and do some shopping.

The concept of the virtual mall has been kind of the Holy Grail of online retail from the very beginnings of the commercial Web. Years ago when the Earth was cooling and few business people had even heard the term dotcom, I worked with a visionary by the name of Christopher Locke. Locke pioneered many now-common Internet concepts, from the mass-distributed online newsletter to the idea that people would pay for electronic stuff they could buy online.

Locke’s vision was to create a knowledge exchange on the Web, where Fortune 1000 companies could hang out their shingle in cyberspace. And the metaphor he used for MecklerWeb, his unsuccessful attempt to create this concept back in 1994, was the mall:

Think of a successful mall. Anchor stores create the foundation for dozens of smaller businesses to sell their products. Co-location of the businesses attracts customer traffic that can support the whole operation. In a well designed mall, everybody benefits: the mall management, the store owners, and the customers -- because they get a wider array of products and services. In a physical mall we can also say that the local community benefits.

Locke coined the phrase “fast cheap and out of control” to describe the MecklerWeb effort. Unfortunately, the project was way ahead of its time and was supported by an events and publishing company that didn’t have a clue. (Locke later went on to co-write the Cluetrain Manifesto, which should, even at this late date, be required reading for every company using the Web.)

We all know the rest of the story: Selling atoms on the Web (Amazon) has succeeded and now is a big business. Selling bits (iTunes) has yet to fully mature. And the mall concept, where multiple retailers congregate in a destination portal, has produced numerous flameouts.

Yub is trying to fight that history by combining a hot trend, social networking, with the anchor-store mall concept. Along the way, they also are incorporating another sales concept with a checkered past (Net Perceptions – I still have my stock): peer recommendations.

The collection of merchants in the Yub online mall is impressive: Target, Sony, iTunes, Dell, Macy’s and more. Nonetheless, having a group of retailers on the same site is so last millenium. What’s unique is that on the main mall navigation page and throughout the site are links to pictures of Yub members alongside links to the stuff they rave about. Click on the picture of the foxy lady or the hunky guy to meet the person. Click on the picture of the merchandise to check it out and buy it. Brilliant! It’s the mall hangout refined and electrified.

Yub combines this melding of two hot online trends with other, more-standard, online retailing techniques like buying clubs, electronic couponing, viral marketing, and multilevel marketing. You can join for free, but if you join YubClub for $25 a year, you get up to a 15 percent discount, plus a 1 percent kickback if people by the stuff you recommend. Brilliant!

On the social networking side, there are user forums, instant messaging, and the ability to create and customize your own page (see mine). You can also use Yub as an online photo album with 100MB of storage.

So Yub has the whole package and it’s pretty well executed. Their slogan, “Meet. Hang. Shop,” is a perfect encapsulation of the mall experience, at least for happening younger folks. Me, when I shop at a mall, especially the humongous Mall of America, I get in and get out as quickly as I can and have little interest in meeting new people at the mall. But I don’t think I’m in the target demographic.

And the name? The company says Yub is "buy spelled backwards, an apt name since we’re turning buying inside out by facilitating buying thru friends and real people. Instead of buying what the stores tell you to buy, and then becoming a consumer, we flip it, allowing you to hear what the consumers say before you buy. Yub is also an acronym for our core user—the Young Urban Buyer."

Yub also turns out to be part of the Ewok word for freedom, yub nub, and there is a flourishing Star Wars community site called

Yub was launched originally as Metails by three entrepreneurs from Cambridge, Massachusetts. But it took their merger with veteran online retailer to transform the concept into Yub and put the marketing oomph behind it.

Obviously, since Yub only launched recently, the jury is still out as to how well it will succeed. But it looks to me like they’re doing everything right — from the targeting, to the marketing tools, to the mall experience. Of course Yub may turn out to be one of those magnificent Internet failures like Net Perceptions that change the whole approach of an industry (see Amazon’s “others who bought this also bought . . .” feature, a direct application of the Net Perceptions recommendation engine concept).

Yub nub and may the force be with you!

Briefly Noted

  • iPod in the Classroom: Alert SNS Reader Peter Ellsworth sent along a link regarding student use of iPods at my alma mater, Duke University. When I originally heard that Duke was issuing iPods to all 1,600 members of the incoming freshman class this year, I was puzzled. Duke experienced the largest number of applicants in its history this year, so why offer another incentive, especially one that not only wasn’t directly related to the university’s mission, but one that would also add immensely to the traffic on its network? Turns out that there was method in that madness. Apple and Duke figured that bright young minds would come up with new uses of the entertainment-oriented device. And they did. Computer Science students use the iPod to move large files so can take them home. Other students access lectures and course material on their iPods and take them with them on the bus or to listen to during other non-productive time. One professor split students into small groups of to discuss a topic and then submit an MP3 instead of turning in a written paper. He found the quality of the work was far superior to any of the written work he previously received. Because of success stories like these, Duke is expanding the iPod giveaway to the rest of the undergraduates next year. This is just another clue that we are rapidly turning into a post-literate society in which normal kinds of literacy (involving books and written material) are deemphasized in favor of other modalities. Simply put, that means if you or your kid is the kind of person with only a nodding acquaintance with new communications technologies, you’ll be under the wave, not on it. Playlist Magazine
  • WiMAX at 100 mph: You may have heard of the next big thing in wireless, a technology called WiMAX. It promises to be really fast and extend really far, way beyond the 300 feet or so that current Wi-Fi hotspots can manage. You may also know that the techies have been hassling over the WiMAX standard and a couple of competing standards that enable what is known as mobility, the ability to get high bandwidth while moving, even in a car. The original standard was intended for fixed use – beaming Internet connectivity to your house or office – rather than mobility. The various standards factions have sniped at one another and declared each other redundant and so on and on. Well, those who wasted energy complaining that WiMAX couldn’t do mobility should have put that energy to use, as T-Mobile has done in the UK, where they’ve enabled wireless Internet usage on 100 mph trains over a 60 mile corridor. Using pre-standard WiMAX gear (about all that’s available due to the lag in certification), T-Mobile communicates wirelessly with the fast-moving trains. Inside the trains, the connection is handed off to Wi-Fi access points that passengers connect to with their normal Wi-Fi cards. The company is offering it for free until the system is complete, but will eventually charge their normal rates. What’s cool about this is that T-Mobile realized that communicating wirelessly with a finite number of known fast moving objects on a predictable path is way easier than true mobility – the ability to keep a connection when many users are moving in random directions. Thanks to Alert SNS Reader David Dabbs for the pointer. TechWorld

No comments: