Will the e-commerce of the future require creating a safe community?

There are so many interesting things about the fact thatAmazon will no longer deliver Kindle as an iPad app but instead as a web app. A surprising yet natural response to Apple subjecting in-app purchases to a 30% tax. A tax which might be tolerable for a small developer who realizes that marketing will eat up more than that for an independent, but intolerable for Amazon to suddenly put 30% into their massive P&L spreadsheets. Apple should have been smarter about the way they introduced this tax.

Think of the wonderful innovation that can now be pushed out to the Kindle because they are shifting away from an interface that requires customers to hit the “refresh button.” Let me explain: I remember when I was working at RealNetworks right before the first bubble crash in 2000. The RealPlayer was one of the first major applications to support over-the-network updating. Even so, all of us sat in dread, because this was the moment when Microsoft was releasing Windows ME (Media Edition), the first OS which bundled the new “Windows Media Player” directly inside the OS. RealNetworks placed several full page ads in newspapers like the New York Times to brag about the fact they had 150 Million downloads, a warning shot across the bow, but probably more to counter their own investor worries. Internally people said this was going to kill Real. We could never compete with a bundled media player when everyone would have to download it from the site: immediately 100 million people would have the newest version as soon as they took home the Microsoft CD installer. As a geek I never understood the significance of this until I had a conversation with my cousin and he told me that RealNetworks autoupdater was always flashing in his system tray, pleading “update me!” He told me quite innocently “Why would I want to do that?” As a techie I always wanted the shiniest new things, but I remember that moment as revelatory. Why would he? Why would anyone? Nothing has changed, my fiance still almost never plugs in her iPhone to her laptop; she is almost a full version point behind the OS, still using 3.x rather than version 4 of the iOS. Upgrading people is so challenging with these devices, and the app model makes things worse. Do people really prefer native apps above webapps? Maybe Apple will cause a tipping point. Yes, ironically, apps require clicking the “refresh button” more than web apps, the derivative platform on which the refresh button was born.

So, with great relish I welcome the Kindle as a web app. Think of the innovation possible! Javascript widgets! APIs! Amazon is a forward thinking company and I have strong feelings they will be able to create a marketplace for themselves around the ecosystem that will arise. And, they get all the built-in browser features for free, and on a system like Android, all the built-in sharing features that come with using Activities across applications. This will be an exciting period for open standards.

While pondering this, there is one problem I still see, and that is, there will still always be an attempt to drive people to purchase more and more. And, companies are getting better and better at pushing people to make purchases. We are not much more than rats in this way. Push the right buttons inside our brains and we’ll push the “buy” button. I loved the essay Paul Graham wrote in which he said we will be defined by what we say no to. People will search out communities which are safe for purchasing and support them in their “no’s”.

I will join a community which says to me when I sign up: ” Pay $50 monthly for your books, and you’ll never pay more!” Rather than “sign up (and know that we are going to pump you for as much as possible!)” I’ll stay away from communities like Facebook which will allow gaming companies to prey on me for profits. I don’t begrudge these companies for doing what is natural to them. I just know better than to believe I am powerful enough to buy things rationally. My animalistic desires kick in. Amazon is in a good position to provide this to me as they sell almost everything now. O’Reilly could be forward thinking enough to do this, and more importantly, there is no other brand that I trust more (probably because of Tim O’reilly’s impeccable integrity and vision as a business person and human). I imagine there will be several silos of consumer options for people: live entertainment, food, books. Those silos will be expected to not only provide products and services but protection from our animalistic impulses.