Placeshifting Walmart

    February 28, 2005

One of the buzzwords of late is Placeshifting. Seems natural, as we have been bound by space and time, then we have Tivo and now we want that concept everywhere.

Timeshifting lets us turn flows into stocks, the ultimate in convenient consumption.

Placeshifting has been used to describe turning a media center into a hub accessible anywhere. Sony, Orb Networks or Sling Media all fit this mold and the meme accelerated at CES. It presents an interesting quandary for vertically integrated Cable, which is granted legal monopolies according to geography and intellectual property. The convenient consumption of Placeshifting well serves our increasingly nomadic lifestyle, if we can afford it.

As such, I have also heard the term used to describe services for global tribes, the ethnic networks that span the globe. Even in the context of Moroccans consuming homeland media 24/7 while living on the dole in Germany, destined for cultural isolation. Now I personally think this is a good thing, as odds are there is more cross-cultural exchange than if everyone stayed in their homeland, but regardless people and cultures will continue to be on the move.

But lets extend this concept. Say you are a business traveller stranded in Wichita. You may be able to get your daily dose of the Daily Show, but is that enough of the creature comforts? Nah, you head for your favorite retail brands for the convenience of consistency. Latte at Starbucks, Lunch at McDonalds. For now, that’s not the best you can do, although you long for your trusted barista and burgers at the Peninsula Creamery.

Seth Godin pointed out the Walmart Paradox today, in which suppliers long for choice beyond the short tail.

The answer is to tell Walmart to go away. Toy companies are beginning to discover that they can’t win this game. The answer is to find a new and better and more consistently profitable way to launch the remarkable stuff.

But you are still stuck in Witchita wanting to consume something Walmart doesn’t sell and with one one to trust otherwise. So you log on and find a way to have your friends help without them threatening to timeshift you. We are not quite there yet, but social media like blogs and social networking services will become convenient enough for this kind of Placeshifting.

Which brings me back to brands. Leading brands don’t blog, or encourage their employees to blog, as the perception is a loss of control is not worth risking convenient consistency. But they are listening, even to posts like these. So the big question, in my humble opinion, is what happens when brands owned by a network are worth more than the brand of a single firm? When choice in placeshifting, for example, is as easy as choices in your own neighborhood. Wouldn’t you want your employees to be part of these conversations, just like they are when they come in your stores?

Ross Mayfield is CEO and co-founder of Socialtext, an emerging provider of Enterprise Social Software that dramatically increases group productivity and develops a group memory.

He also writes Ross Mayfield’s Weblog which focuses on markets, technology and musings.