In the first part of this article with Rob Monster of Epik.com, we learned of Rob’s vision of the Internet. We learned that Epik is taking an “Internet by Design” approach to creating a more user centric evolution.
In this part, Rob tells us how individual sites can compete against giants like Amazon and how our identity and reputation needs to be portable from site to site. Be sure to read Part III next.
Mike: Rob, in theory, it sounds great to move to a more focused level from a consumer standpoint. But does this add a layer of complexity for the consumer dealing with multiple site?
Rob: Yes, we have to make it easier for the user to navigate from site to site. The walls have to come down around the siloed approach we have seen historically. Early on in the development of Epik, we embraced the idea of portable identity and portable reputation as users go from site to site. Single sign-on is a start but that is only one piece.
Another important piece follows the lines of you are an important contributor on site “A”. Now you go to site “B”, “C”, or “D” but nobody knows you. How can you benefit from all the effort you have put into developing a reputation on site “A” when you register on site “B”, “C”, “D”? A real life example is if you have spent a decade building up your seller reputation on eBay, and now you want to create a different auction framework. Good luck taking your reputation with you. That creates a barrier to movement. It makes it impossible to take your reputation and identity with you as you go from site to site.
We have been working on a way to do this. Sites like Questions.com, Comments.com, Chat-Rooms.com are in development, built on the assumptions that we will have horizontal components in the the architecture.
Mike: How do you tie this back with your city planning metaphor?
Rob: So just like the surface of a city, you have buildings. But underneath the city you have sewer, water and electric that are architectured in a common way and are used in a common way by all the people who are building on the surface. The same principle can apply to the Internet where we can have some common components that by designing them for shared use, everybody benefits.
Mike: Obviously this architecture will exist within the Epik network, but what about sites beyond the network?
Rob: Yes, this will be within the Epik network but we will open it beyond. For example, the Comments.com framework will be opened up to sites that want to use that framework. So now if you go to Comments.com/sully, there you would find all of your comments in one place.
Mike: This sort of crosses into social networking, with people following comments of an individual, correct?
Rob: If you think about how the web works today, if I want to “follow” you as people speak of Twitter, how would I follow you? There is no convenient way to follow all of your thought provoking comments across the web.
One way to solve that is to take an aggregation approach. Not just aggregating post fact, as some people are doing, aggregating by design. The fact that there is single sign-on from site to site makes it possible for these comments to be automatically attributed to the person who owns them. I should be able to go to Comments.com/sully to find all of Sully’s comments but I should also be able to Identity.net/sully and be able to see everything that is known about Mike Sullivan that he wants me to know.
This is a very ambitious work in progress, but in the next evolution of the Internet, we have to make it more user centric and more intuitive. The best way I know to do that is by starting with the who/what domain names and being able to map content to domain names in a way that is intuitive.
Mike: How close do you think you are to making this model a reality?
Rob: It’s a continual process. We have already developed and launched these various components. If you go to, for example, Dining.com and you review a restaurant or leave a comment about a restaurant, the comment is now visible on Comments.com in abstract form. That’s useful for creating a back link, but also for creating an essential way to discover comments made about certain topics. The user handle you create on Dining.com or Comments.com is the same across any website in the network.
So architecturally, it’s already happening. We are now releasing our first major upgrade of our product portal platform, the first upgrade in four months, a major front end upgrade. There, you will see evidence of portable identity and the portable commenting framework will show up in a whole class of site that didn’t initially have community. The foundation has been laid in parallel to developing stronger foundation of shared developing components. We are also building more of what I call “sky scrapers on Main street” as well as lesser structures for situations that don’t require massive developments on the scale of say, Dining.com.
Mike: What is your screening process when someone comes to you with a portfolio or domain they would like to get into the network?
Rob: We really have an appreciation for names that have a high exact search volume. It’s a great start having names with 1,000 plus exact searches, although we have had success developing with as little as 300. Another good filtering is looking for CPC of greater than $1 as a further indication that there is enough margin in that category to justify developing.
At the end of the day, our objective is to make our clients money. If we take a domain for development, there is a burden of responsibility on us to make an evaluative call on whether or not this is a domain we can make into a profitable domain.
There are two elements of profit. One element is the operating income from the ongoing revenue of the site. The second, which in many cases is even more valuable, is the increase in capital value, the resale value of the developed site vs. the value of an undeveloped domain.
When we look at a domain, we look at it as an uncut diamond. What can we do with this? We look at the business model or the value proposition that could be developed around this domain name in as cost effective manner as possible.
There will be a part III (the final chapter) to this article where Rob talks about the platform of the Epik sites, the revenue model and the promotion of the sites.