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Meet the future of online commerce - and the future of the web.

3 min read

Meet the future of online commerce:

We're all used to content unbundling: very few of us are loyal to magazines, blogs or personal websites any more. We consume content through our social feeds, clicking on articles that people we care about have recommended. Articles are atoms of content, flowing in a social stream, unbundled from their parent publications. Very few of us visit content homepages any more.

Products like Stripe Relay let vendors do the same with commerce. Suddenly you can get products in your social stream, which you can share and comment on, as well as buy right there. There's no need to visit a store homepage like Amazon.com. You can find products anywhere on the web, and click to buy wherever you encounter them.

There's no point in vendors having apps: the app experience is handled by the social stream (be it Facebook, Twitter, or something more open). The homepage also becomes significantly less crucial to purchasing, just as it's become much less crucial to serving content. In fact, there's often no need to visit a standalone web page at all, except perhaps to learn more about the product. Even then, you can imagine this extended content traveling along the social stream with the main post, in the same way that Facebook's Instant Articles become part of their app.

It's no accident that Google and Twitter are creating an open source version of instant articles. Facebook's version is a proof of concept that shows the way: websites are not destinations any longer. The social stream has become a new kind of browser, where users navigate through social activities rather than thematic links.

Social streams used to be how we discovered content on web pages. Increasingly, the content will live in the stream itself.

A battle is raging over who will own this real estate, and Facebook is winning it hands down. However, that doesn't mean they'll win the war over how we discover information online - there's plenty of precedent in computing for the more open alternative eventually winning. And that's what Google and Twitter are betting on:

Another difference between the Google/Twitter plan and other mobile publishing projects is that Google and Twitter won’t host publishers’ content. Instead, the plan is to show readers cached Web pages — a “snapshot of [a] webpage,” in Google’s words — from publishers’ sites.

The language of the web will still be a crucial part of how we communicate. What's at stake is who controls how we learn about the world, and an open plan allows us to dictate how that content is consumed.

If Facebook is the Apple Mac of social feeds, Twitter has the potential to be the IBM PC. And that may, eventually, be how they succeed.

In the meantime, the web has turned a corner into a new era of social commerce and free-flowing content. There's no turning back the clock; platform owners need to embrace these dynamics and run fast.