Into the great wide open

Recap: in our last post talked about how the internet can be more than it is, and that a great opportunity might be found in shifting online experiences towards collaboration. We also stated the realization that for this to succeed we need to benefit both websites and users, all the relevant stakeholders. Now we will explore how we came to find our company’s calling and define our vision for the coming years.

If you build it – they will come?

Are you familiar with the feeling you get right after you’ve come up with a new idea or a great realization, that kind of giddy urgency of obviousness in which you’re sure that you hold in your mind the ultimate form of a solution and all that needs to happen right now is for you to just quickly download your thoughts unto something, connect it to something else, slap some duct tape on it and – “Viola!” – you’ve changed the world? Well, our team’s form of that experience was thinking that if we’d just build a chrome browser extension everyone would just start browsing the internet together. Yeah. I know.

But what to build?

Rule number #1 of the lean-start-up is to make sure that people will actually want what you’re about to build, and do that before you even start. This rule is more profound when you understand that it stems from the understanding of what is necessary to affect change of any kind – you always have to start your journey from where people are actually at right now. This is way trickier than you think, mostly because we are usually so amazingly unaware of how different from us people can really be.

So we took a further step back from the lean-start-up question and wanted to find out what do people currently want with their browsing and what part of it is relevant for collaboration, and on the basis of that decide beforehand what it is that we were going to build for them. So let’s do a survey, we thought, a really big one! Not so fast.

How to ask

The problem with just asking people what they think is that they are all lying, misleading and omitting agents of misinformation. All of them, always. For instance, at the Google Campus one of the mentors asked our CEO, Jonathan, a simple question:

“Do you drink coffee every morning?” to which he replied with a quick and obvious “Yes”.

“Did you drink coffee this morning?”
Silence.

“Ahh, no.”

Caught red-handed! Oh no. What happened?

Very little malice is involved. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. People are actually so kind and eager to help that they subtly and subconsciously idealize and simplify things for those who ask and they direct their answers to what they think the other side wants to hear. And this is on top of all the cognitive biases we can’t help but having, namely Availability bias, Simulation heuristic and Status quo bias to state a few.

So how would you get about asking people what they want or need when browsing?
You obviously can’t ask them what they want, not to mention asking what they think others might want. Here are some of the rules we learned for getting usable information from people:

Bottom line is – just don’t ask people what they think. The best practice is not to ask anyone anything at all but rather observe them yourself and note what they actually do. And if you’re conducting a survey this means asking only for testimonials on instances of past behavior.

So, what did we ask?

But how would you frame a hypothetical product value in terms of a past instance of behavior? That is tricky… After consulting with some survey experts (thanks mom!), what we eventually came up with is to ask for testimonials of past instances in which we thought that the value we propose would have a positive impact.
After some deliberation and thought we came up with the following two questions. We did many more things in that first survey, like collect demographics and so on, but this questioning concept was at the core of the survey:

  1. Have you ever talked with someone on the phone while browsing the internet together?
  2. If yes, in what situation?

And we set the survey loose on social media.
Just a couple of days later and results were already producing the insights we’d hoped for – not the “got it” type but rather the “ok… that’s interesting…” type of results.

Online purchase decisions are a big deal

Of the people surveyed, 59% (!!) replied “yes” to the first question. That was a very clear signal that communication over web browsing was a very real thing indeed. And 70% of those gave us details of the situations they were recalling, many giving multiple instances. Answers were extremely varied – from “helping with homework” and “checking for public transportation somewhere” to “planning an event” and “work conference call”. When breaking the answers down to categories (some answers had to be counted in several categories), five major categories emerged:

We were not surprised by the top-scoring instance. Of course, work-related browsing would require collaboration. What did surprise us though was the prevalence of the need to collaborate over trip planning and shopping decisions. Put together, they comprised over a third of the instances people recalled for needing a collaborative browsing tool!

While Looking for good opportunities to help users with these five use-cases we quickly realized that the work-related market for collaboration tools was crowded, mostly off the world-wide-web and more into specific tools, just like we mentioned in our previous post.

But when we looked at the generalized use-case of trip planning and shopping – “online purchase decisions” – we found a vast blue ocean with only a few small B2C start-ups in it or ghosts of failed ones still hovering around. Eureka!

Show me the money

From observing the struggling start-ups and ghosts laying around this domain we quickly realized that we will need to do something different to make this work. By that time, our disillusionment from just building a free chrome extension was fully matured and we knew that if we weren’t going to find a way to build a business-to-business (B2B) company in this domain, with income right off the bat, the chances of our success were going to be slim.

These two realizations combined with the understanding, phrased with such an after-the-fact obviousness in the previous post, but which was very difficult for us to embrace while we were looking to “change the internet” with our idea:

Change, any change, needs to rally all stake-holders and benefit them all at the same time. Users, publishers, merchants, developers and regulators all have to see the benefits. This means building a product that can help both people and websites at the same time and is simple and seamless to use.

That was probably what went wrong with previous attempts and what almost no one has done before, and that was how we were going to build our company.

The next internet paradigm

From books to cities

Is the internet complete? Think about that for a second. Is the internet we have right now the complete and final version of what may be the most important thing to have happened to mankind since the printing press?

Arguably not. But then what is the next evolutionary step? Is it AR/VR? If we want to think of the next paradigm of the internet, we first need to understand what is the current paradigm.

Books

My father was a colleague of the now-famous Tim Burns Lee at CERN and was one of the very first people to see the very first web browser and play with hyperlinks. Back then the story was about reading and linking text into a “documentation system”, and the concept was truly revolutionary. It brought abstraction to text that gave it the ability to update live, be interactive, distributed and interlinked. Today, over 30 years later, the invention of the internet is still too big for us to comprehend its ramifications.

But overall, the internet is still conceived of as a book, as a “documentation system”. A distributed, interactive and abstracted one, but still a book. It has “pages”, you mostly read it and most importantly – you sit in front of it alone.

However, very slowly, some big changes are challenging this paradigm. From cloud computing to messaging apps the internet has become less of a “thing” and more of a “place”, an infrastructure for almost everything that you can digitize. And with this sea change comes a paradigm shift.

But even though today most of us no longer really conceive of the internet as a body of text, the legacy of the “book” paradigm remains and is holding us back. Even though we call internet pages “web-sites”, when we build them we still design mostly for a single reader and we build them more as services and less as spaces, and we “share” them but not “collaborate” on them.

We, humans, like to do things together, as groups. But still, the experience of most of the internet content is solitary. Even when we consume social content like Facebook, we do it mostly alone. And with the mind-blowing number of man-hours spent online every day an increasing number of voices are being raised about this mostly solitary experience and the emotional and social ramifications it brings. Obviously this is not sustainable, but where will that much-needed change come from? The time has come for a paradigm shift.

Cities

So, if the internet is no longer a great big book, what is it then and what can it be? Well, what do humans build when they are all together in the same place? We build cities. If trees form forests then humans form cities.

So what kind of city are we building with our internet? Is it a good one? And what makes a city a good city? Thinking about our internet from the perspective of the city paradigm opens up many observations and helps clarify some of what is missing with our current internet experience.

I’m sure that every person reading this now has their own ideas, like the need for an effective police force or a better way to protect children from bad places when they wander off, but for myself and my pals at Gamitee the most striking missing element today is the capacity to “meet” anywhere in the “city”, meaning the capacity to interact and collaborate with each other over internet content. For instance – opening a Q&A session over a Wikipedia article, shopping with my friend to find his next computer, meeting my father at the bank and talking together with the banker, helping my grandmother with that online government website and so on.

These are not new ideas. As far back as twenty years ago start-ups like Flock and pLurchase have tried to build a collaborative group experience of browsing, but attempts such as these have either failed or pivoted away. Some of the issues stemmed from technological in-feasibility (now resolved) but in our minds, the main issues are probably simpler – all attempts so far have been either building single business-to-consumer (B2C) websites or building new browsing platforms altogether.

Firstly, building single B2C websites can prove costly since from the beginning they are forced to compete with well-established players. Secondly, when building browsing platforms, content-makers and website owners do not necessarily have the incentive to play along. This makes financial viability much more difficult. Lastly, and critical for both models, using the product requires asking internet users to change their habits, commit to a single platform or invest effort in learning a new system. This is obviously too hard.

Building Babylon

Since it seems to people that the climb to a collaborative internet is too steep we see the first signs of our paradigm shift happen actually off the world-wide-web and mostly in our workplaces. Here users can be forced by their company to commit to a single platform, or incentivized to learn a new and complicated system so they can join the team, and the competition can just buy you out if you’re successful.

And indeed with products like Google docs, Trello, Slack, GitHub, Figma, Zoom, Team viewer, Zoho, Dropbox Paper and Bitbucket showing huge success, it seems that nowadays the hottest thing happening at the work-space is collaboration: Microsoft has bought Github for $7.5B specifically for its edge in developing open-source code through collaboration and in a recent tech-crunch interview after their $40M series C investment in the design tool company Figma, Sequoia partner Andrew Reed was quoted saying “Collaboration is going to be embedded in the future of software”. No more book paradigm here!

But this is still not the magnificent Babylon that we’re worthy of. Who will bring the wave of interaction and collaboration to the wider web, and how?

Change, any change, needs to rally all stake-holders and benefit them all at the same time. Users, publishers, merchants, developers, and regulators all have to see the benefits. This means building a product that can help both people and websites at the same time and is simple and seamless to use.

Where do you start with such an endeavor?

Next time we’ll explore the method we came up with to find our way forward. Stay tuned!

Make better travel decisions, together

It’s really time you went on a vacation. Life has been so stressful lately with work, family, your duties and expectations. You really need some time off, a well-deserved change of atmosphere, an exciting getaway, to recharge your mental batteries.

Twenty years ago, this was the point where you would have eagerly headed off to your travel agency. You would then share with your agent your ​where, when, with whom​ and ​how much and leafed through some glossy brochures while the agent looked up the costs in her price list. Eventually, you would leave, smiling, all sorted out, with a cardboard folder in your hand that included a stack of tickets with carbon paperbacks and a branded label holder to attach to your luggage, in case it got lost.

That is a far cry from how we go about purchasing our well deserved, much desired, vacations today. Possibly more than any other commercial activity, every individual with an internet connection can make online arrangements for flights, accommodations, and activities.

At first, booking on the internet was exciting, it gave you a new sense of freedom and access to infinite possibilities… Navigating travel websites was a learning process, but once you figured it out, finding a creative route or a bargain ticket felt like a brilliant accomplishment.

But lately, things seem to be getting somewhat out of hand. Online booking has become complicated and time-consuming. There is an overwhelming and ever-increasing number of websites that sell tickets, accommodations, car hire, tours and, and, and… Just to find the right flight has become a nightmare. Comparing fares between destinations, low-cost and regular, luggage or no luggage, night flights and transfers, total flight time, alliances, airlines, and airports, can be a daunting task and to an extent, it turns your chances of making the right decision into a matter of luck.

After the initial liberating thrill of having the world at your fingertips, planning travel has become a huge time-sink, fraught with stress. The options are literally endless and so are the possibilities of getting it wrong.

In 1957, psychologist Leon Festinger developed his theory of “Cognitive Dissonance”, which centers around how people try to make decisions without being disappointed at having made the wrong choice. People, in general, want to believe that they ​make good choices​. If they suspect that they have made a bad decision, they will often feel what Festinger called “Cognitive Dissonance”, a mental state that people want to avoid. So how do people avoid the uncomfortable possibility that their decisions have not been the best options available? A very effective way to avoid wrong or bad decisions is, as Festinger proved, to consult with others, whose opinion and experience we value.

Translating these findings to our world of Online Travel means that making plans and purchases on the internet ​together with our traveling partners, using Gamitee’s product, will not only significantly reduce our insecurity of having made the right decision or not, it will also speed up the decision-making process and significantly increase the chances of finalizing the purchase. Because the moment you feel most comfortable about your decision is the moment your need to continue searching for better options stops.