Offline, vendors recognize the importance of moving products as close to the would-be consumer as possible. Retailers, fast food chains, and other vendors therefore build physical locations all over the world, seeking to be physically proximate to potential customers.
Online, we still somehow believe that it's acceptable to build one store (e.g., BarnesandNoble.com) and expect the world to beat a path to the vendor's door.
Best Buy doesn't think so, and is doing some exceptionally interesting work with San Francisco-based Mashery to effectively replicate and extend the local shopping experience online.
The key to it all is the API (application programming interface), as The New York Times describes, which "lets Web sites make their content easily available to other Web developers, who can import it, display it on their own sites and mash it up with other material."
In Best Buy's case, this means making its product catalog available to the world. No big deal? Consider that this essentially opens up a Best Buy store on every niche Web site on the planet (that chooses to use the Best Buy Remix API, of course). Perhaps I'd like to provide detailed information about scanners that I want to sell. Best Buy's Remix lets me leverage its catalog (along with product reviews and more).
The next phase for Best Buy? Open up its shopping cart, as well, so that each of these corner stores becomes not only a place to browse but also a place to buy Best Buy products, taking a share of the sale in the process. Best Buy everywhere...even more than it could hope to achieve offline.
Best Buy, however, isn't alone in this. Mashery is also working with MTV, which suggests the following services with its API as a starting point:
- Build a music video gallery of MTV, VH1, CMT, or LOGO artists
- Create an application to send music video dedications to friends on Facebook, MySpace, Flux, or just about any other social network
- Mine our expansive music video archive to create the music application of your dreams
- Fashion a WordPress plug-in to dynamically pull music videos into blog posts
In sum, MTV's Mashery-enabled API opens up its content to the world to consume, with huge benefits going back to MTV as a consequence: visibility, adoption, and downstream revenue-sharing opportunities.
In this way, I see Mashery opening up the Web to development in similar ways to how open source works "offline." Mashery is helping to break down barriers between Web sites, enabling savvy customers to extend their reach far beyond their .com site to envelop and enrich others' Web services, and take a share of the sales in the process.