Small Stores, Big Ideas

I discover a lot of small independent stores through Wanelo. These are relatively small operations, larger than your average Etsy shop or eBay business, but much smaller than your average corporation or retail operation with more than one address. You might call them boutiques, but they’re quite different from what that word conjures up on sites like FarFetch. They have a ton of personality, sell a wide variety of things, often have a physical address but primarily exist on their own domain online, and write copy about their products in a way that happens to be highly entertaining to read. Sometimes they make their products and sometimes they source them, and they always tell you the details of how they sourced them and from whom. They’re curators, to use a word I can barely stomach now.

Best Made Company is probably the canonical example of this type of store in my head. I discovered them before I started working on Wanelo, and now regularly open their emails and get excited about new offerings they come up with, like the Less Is Muir patch and the Shawl Neck Sweater Coat they created in collaboration with Dehen. They have a really strong brand with strong values, and as a consequence people pay attention to the things they choose to sell and why. I was pretty excited about the books they chose to sell when I first discovered them, as it seemed like a sort of cross-section of old DIY wilderness faves last featured in the Whole Earth Catalog.

Less Is Muir from Best Made Co

You can read about how Best Made came about here. They have ~24K followers at the moment on Wanelo.

Occulter is a new Wanelo discovery and the inspiration for this post. They’re based in New York and sell a lot of fascinating things.

Their Binchotan Toothbrush is blended with Binchotan charcoal powder, which is apparently “known to radiate negative ions, has a powerful deodorizing effect, removes plaque and attacks the causes of bad breath.” Occult dental products pretty much have my attention right away.

Binchotan toothbrush from Occulter

They also sell a sharp-looking Smith & Wesson pen, which is something I’m surprised I’ve never heard referenced before in rap lyrics.

Smith & Wesson pen from Occulter

And they sell these Woolly Mammoth ivory razors with quartz lenses featuring vintage micro-photography.

Mammoth straight razor from Occulter

Plus: very, very dark honey sourced from a beekeeper in Schenectady.

Occulter Black Honey

And, the perfect gift for any former philosophy major: Platonic solids!

Platonic Solids from Occulter

And these are just the things I’ve saved to my Wanelo.

ThinkGeek is another store of this dimension I’ve come into a lot more contact with since Wanelo, most recently with these rare earth magnets.

Rare Earth Magnets

You could even consider making your own. How? It’s very simple! You just find yourself a nice chunk of some Misch metal from the Earth’s substrate, then carefully extract any Neodymium, purify it, mold it, coat it in a small amount of nickel, and then wrap some plastic around it in the shape of a thumbtack.

They have ~118K followers at the moment on Wanelo.

Opulent Items is another store of this type. Operated out of Miami, I would probably never have come into contact with the astounding products they sell if it weren’t for Wanelo, where they have over 100K followers.

And there’s many more, like Fred Flare, straight out of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with ~118K followers on Wanelo. And MoMAStore, RISDworks, Selekkt, Photojojo, Buy Olympia, House 8810, Moon Marble, Hammacher, Uncommon Goods, Poketo, Present and Correct, Street Market, FriendsWithYou, MollaSpace, Little Paper Planes, The Future Perfect, Totokaelo, Solitary Arts, Matter and others.

The point is that there’s a fast-growing audience for products worth sharing, and a rapidly expanding definition of what that entails.

My Wanelo Feed Erupted with Goodness Last Night

Feeding on Wanelo

This natural event occurred because we began surfacing the individual shops behind the hundreds of thousands of products from Etsy that have been posted to Wanelo by members. Members who had been following the etsy.com “store” on Wanelo and had saved Etsy products are now following the shops behind those products. If you happen to be following people like TouMou or anastridendeavor on Wanelo (or me, or Deena), your feed just erupted with goodness as well.

Store pages on Wanelo are created when members post products from a store. You can follow stores and get updates in your feed when new products from those stores are posted by members. (Did I mention that the new Wanelo feed is simple, lickable and alive?)

This is something I happen to have wanted for a long time: the ability to follow Etsy shops. I’ve favorited hundreds of excellent Etsy shops but when you favorite a shop today you don’t get updates from them, and you forget about them.

Another thing I’ve long wanted that now exists is attribution and ownership for products I’ve saved. When I save a product on Wanelo with a comment, I create a page with that context. If I tweet that save and someone resaves it from me or comments on my save, I get notified. It’s not unlike how reblogging works on Tumblr, and check-ins work on Foursquare.

A Wanelo save page

It’s a step toward helping every active member of Wanelo create content and get feedback on their activity.

Because shopping, since the Industrial Revolution anyway, has been about passive consumption. “Consumption” from “consumer”: a word with a telling etymology that didn’t take off until the late 19th century, after factories had begun manufacturing uniform products en masse and needed to advertise to generate demand:

early 15c., “one who squanders or wastes,” agent noun from consume. In economic sense, “one who uses up goods or articles” (opposite of producer) from 1745. Consumer goods is attested from 1890.

The internet was not designed for passive consumption (that’s what TV was for, and I like to think that the internet began with the creation of the Whole Earth Catalog). And I don’t think consuming in the traditional sense has much of a future. Buying things can be a lot more creative, meaningful and fun. Payment is a form of communication, as Jack Dorsey likes to say, and people prefer to communicate with other people. Left to their own devices, people also tend to seek out unique products and customize things for themselves.

Wanelo is reorganizing shopping around people. That can sound vague if you haven’t picked up Paul Adams’ book Grouped for example, but it’s simple and powerful, and I think soon to be obvious and inevitable: people first. People organize the content and help it get discovered. A typical content-driven ecommerce site will have lots of categories to drill down into, carefully organized by the retailer and created by the retailer. Social context around the products is usually minimal or plastered on, and the experience is often one-dimensional, with the retailer talking at you. On Wanelo you discover products through people, and through the entities that people create while using the site (stores, collections, saves and *more*, coming soon). People look to other people for clues and guidance, just like in real life. And we don’t tell them who to listen to or what to buy.

Tons and tons to do (I’m making commits and writing tickets in another window as I type), but OMG it’s fun. And my Wanelo feed keeps getting better.

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

Narrated by William H. Whyte in 1980.

Classic, and strangely familiar if you work in product, or skateboard.

The New Wanelo

It’s generally considered pretty risky to rewrite, redesign, rebuild, rebrand and relaunch a service that’s just started to take off among users, but it’s working out nicely at Wanelo. And we like it dangerous.

Wanelo logo

Wanelo‘s got a new look (big up: @ednacional), new backend (Ruby, PostgreSQL, Solr, Redis), new frontend (Haml, SCSS, CoffeeScript, Gibson-Regular), new bookmarklet (@jicksta, @paulhenry), new infrastructure, new process, new metrics, new team, new gifs, new features (like inline editing of products you post), new pages, new following feed, new feed feeds, new URLs, new office, new officemates, new mystical courtyard with hummingbird guides, new admin tools, new rules, new mission, new books, new members, new stores, new bikes, new energy and new shoes.

It’s so fresh, clean, modern and pure in intention, and so full of potential right now, it can make you fall in love.

Newer hotness now shipping daily, and I can’t wait to be able to talk about the next few things in the queue.

The End of Western Civilization

Poster by Tom Connell and Tom Cervenak, 1966.

I live here now, between the Golden Gate Bridge and Telegraph Hill.

The Discovery Problem

There are a lot of really awesome and well-made things being sold by creative businesses these days. Things you do not know you want until you see them, because you did not know they existed and wouldn’t have thought to search for them. Things that enrich your life because they have meaning for you (you discovered it!) and are special or rare.

There are a lot of great platforms for selling these things: Etsy, Shopify, Big Cartel, Goodsie, Gumroad. But generating demand for these things, and helping them get discovered, is a distinct problem on which I don’t think we’ve made a great deal of headway yet. Sellers and retailers are still shouting, or advertising, at people to buy their stuff, inefficiently. The best ones are telling stories and engaging people in conversations, but it takes a lot of work to gain traction. It also takes a lot of money and effort to build brands the traditional way. So a lot of awesome things are being lovingly made and never seen or sold.

Turns out seller-focused platforms may not be in the best position to attack this problem. It may not make a lot of business sense to try. When sellers are your primary customers, you must focus on their needs and keep them happy. Sometimes things that are best for buyer discovery do not make sellers happy. Sellers would not be happy to see other sellers’ items on their website, for example, or on listing pages that they paid for. Understandably so. Whether or not such a thing leads to more sales and more customers is inconsequential. If sellers aren’t happy, they won’t list items on your service.

A website from an individual seller, whether that seller is an independent designer or Macy’s, is never going to be wholly aligned with the interests of buyers. It’s naturally biased, and limited. And from the seller perspective, visitors will be hard to come by unless you’ve done the hard work of building up an engaged following, in addition to all the other hard work.

Amazon is focused on buyers, and will show you things from lots of different sellers, but Amazon is optimized for convenience, and for buying things you have already decided you want. Amazon is not focused on discovery.

I’ve been thinking that maybe what this world needs are seller-focused platforms optimized for selling, and buyer-focused platforms optimized for discovery.

A buyer-focused platform optimized for discovery puts buyer happiness first, and buyers in control. It’s a place where buyers help other buyers discover things, and puts the right buyers in touch with the right sellers. It’s a place where demand for unique items is generated and aggregated, and creative makers of things benefit.

Wanelo is buyer-focused, and has been inspiring euphoria among a growing legion of young females—the same generation I’ve been watching propel Tumblr to new heights.

I see a lot of work ahead, but I know there’s something there. So I’m going to go help Deena and Kristina Varshavskaya and team figure out what that is, then turn it all the way up, in San Francisco.

I’m going to miss Etsy, and New York, and the astonishingly awesome people I’ve been lucky enough to work with these last few years. Etsy is deep in my bones. I see the next step as a natural continuation of that work. And I won’t be stranger :)

Implicit Sharing

Just a few months ago, numerous folks were writing about how Facebook’s seamless sharing was in fact ruining sharing. The criticisms were focused on the Open Graph news apps from Yahoo News, The Washington Post and others, which automatically share articles you read. Simply viewing a web page causes the sharing to happen, and because of that, it makes sharing a passive, unconscious act, rather than an explicit one requiring a conscious button click.

Since that time, from all accounts I’ve heard, Facebook referral traffic to these news sites is way up, and has had some unexpected effects. And ever since this passive sharing went mainstream at f8, I’ve noticed implicit sharing patterns being incorporated into new services in new ways. I think the new ways work because they make it clear that implicit sharing is happening, and they’re more closely aligned with social reality.

Path 2 was the first notable post-f8 app to do this by showing the faces of all the people who had viewed a “moment.”

Path demo video

“Look! Danny smiled at my moment, and ten other people have already seen it.”

These are the faces of viewers, not just people who have liked or favorited the thing. By using the app and viewing friends’ moments, you’re sharing the fact that you’re using the app with your friends and friends of your friends.

Color 2 followed in Path’s path, showing the faces of broadcast visitors, and publishing those visits as events seamlessly on Facebook.

Color demo video

But Pinwheel, still in private beta, does this best right now. It shows the faces of people who have found (viewed) each note, and, crucially, allows you to “unfind” a note if this freaks you out.

Pinwheel

The sense of control that that “unfind” option provides may be key for this kind of thing to scale comfortably beyond small groups of people who know one another, as on Path and Color.

Highlight takes implicit sharing to another dimension. By simply installing the app on your phone and joining, then continuing to live your life, you’ll automatically send and receive notifications whenever someone with something in common is within range. It allows you to implicitly share your name, location and Facebook profile photos with strangers. No reading, viewing or using required. Just exist!

Highlight

Path, Color, Pinwheel and Highlight all make the fact that implicit sharing is happening pretty clear. You see people’s faces everywhere, and soon realize that you’re leaving your own avatar trail behind. It’s like a very low-fidelity version of walking around a building and entering rooms where other people are hanging out.

The Open Graph news apps are less clear that sharing is happening, and still seem to violate reasonable user expectations—I think partly because reading a news article written for a mass audience by someone you don’t know is not obviously a social act. Telling someone about it is. Viewing someone’s moment, joining someone’s live broadcast or checking out someone’s personal note about a place is.

Half-shopping

By Eric Cahan

Yesterday my Prismatic feed, which has somehow transmuted my Twitter account data into an unbelievably compelling news source, led me to a post by Ian Schafer on Pinterest, via a tweet by Arpan Podduturi. I think 60% of the stories in my feed lately are about Pinterest, so that wasn’t a surprise, but this one got right to the point:

Here’s one hypothesis: Pinterest is half-shopping.

It’s the next best thing to accumulating items, but without the cost associated with actually buying them. It’s a locker where you store the things you want, the things you find interesting, the things you want people to know you’ve found — each of which is a major psychological driver in the process of retail therapy, without the cash (or credit) expenditure.

A recent Atlantic story, Can Pinterest and Svpply Help You *Reduce* Your Consumption?, makes a similar point:

Just as Megan Garber explained the endorphin hit we can get from adding a great story to our Instapaper queue, I have found that adding items to my Svpply page gives me a similarly pleasant rush of some pleasure-inducing chemicals. When I spot something online that I think has nice design, might be worth buying later or would make a good gift, I’ll happily click the Buy Later button in my browser to add it to my Svpply page. Once it is there, I am able to revisit the product later and decide if it is really something I want to buy. I have often removed something later that, in an earlier time, I may have actually bought, not realizing I didn’t actually like the design as much as I had thought or simply that I didn’t need it.

My first reaction: active pinners may indeed be “half-shopping,” and there’s some truth to the notion that curating images of things you think are cool can be almost as satisfying as owning them, but shopping is definitely happening in the midst of this activity—ask the people behind any retail or ecommerce site on the receiving end of Pinterest traffic.

I think Pinterest is actually pitching in to support an important shopping behavior that retail and ecommerce sites have historically been lacking in—the ability to collect and stash away items under consideration in a pleasurable way. And this is because ecommerce has historically been optimized for the kinds of items you don’t necessarily want to bask in—cameras, books, computers, electronics and known, branded items. Items you research before you buy, and items you search for on Amazon after you’ve decided you’re interested in buying them.

Step into the world of softer, “unknown items,” where you don’t really know what you want and are looking to be inspired—as with clothing, jewelry, artwork, furniture, housewares, vintage things, cool things that are fun to look at—and collecting and gaining validation for your discoveries becomes really important. This has always been the case, but is just beginning to be supported well online. These categories have traditionally been thought of as more female than the “ecommerce 1.0″ categories—cue stats about the gender makeup of the Etsy and Pinterest user bases—but they’re also increasingly urban male (see Svpply and Fancy).

You could even say “half-shopping” is the future of commerce on the web.