Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tradespace: Missing My Little Boxes

Three figures from BT - 1 x PR lass, 1 x senior tech/sales guy, 1 x background lurker - swanned into the office, down from the big city, crashed with energy, free pens. Turns out they're recruiting sign-ups for BT's latest venture, a business-community-directory-social-network-service called Tradespace that for all the world looks like a BT'd up version of Etsy. At least they "get" that it's not just what a site does, it's who's using it.

Not sure if it's a site for customers to shop from, or for businesses to network via ("B2B", he said, falteringly knowingly). Obviously less focus on "handmade", more on "small business". Communities are in there, in beta. Shops can feature products, leave blog posts, even "fave" other businesses by the look of it.

Something about it feels creepy. Maybe it's just the BT branding - years of learned behaviour kicking that cautious quarter of the cortex into gear. Maybe free pens have jealously betrayed me in the past. Maybe "we" have got used to seeing "social networking" as something that the big guys just don't "do", or "get" - an association of a new class with new technology, a re-kindling of the cyberpunk fire through APIs and KISS. But then we worship Google and Yahoo, so maybe it's not that.

Actually, you know what it is? What makes me edgy?

Lack of avatar pictures.

Isn't that weird? Why do I miss those tiny little squares? Is that why I don't get on so well with FriendFeed? And has anyone done any research into this? What do they mean? Why do they matter?

And can one exist just as an image, discard the whole crazy idea of a string of letters as who, or what we are? Maybe it's time to go anonymous. No, wait.



Derek Hemphill said...


Thanks for your insightful post about the visit you received from my colleagues (Ivan, Jo and Ben) yesterday.

I was one of the many that descended on Brighton to spread the good word about BT Tradespace. We absolutely ‘get’ that it is all about the people using the site which is why we took the time to come “down from the big city” to meet local business people like your good self.

We all learned a lot from the experience and will continue to do this on a regular basis.

Interesting point about avatar pictures - we have taken note of this and looking at how we can improve it.

Perhaps if you do go ahead and set up your free Tradespace site, you could let us know how it goes or even blog about your experience…

All the best,
Derek Hemphill
Community Manager – BT Tradespace.

Scribe said...

Hi Derek, thought I posted a reply here, but blogger seems to have eaten it. Take 2.

Thanks for the reply - good (and interesting) to see you monitoring the blogomat and staying in touch. I admit, I'm curious as to the origin and operations of Tradespace within BT - is it a "grass roots", separatist movement that's been given space to breathe, or a top-down attempt to (re-)connect with a more fragmented marketplace? Maybe time will tell.

Re avatar pics - this was something I happened upon as I was writing the blogpost, so apologies if the theory is a little vague and under-developed. As I'm coming from more of a Twitter background, I'm not sure how much it does actually translate into a Tradespace, um, space, but I find it an interesting point anyway... I'd love to know, if you do look into it from a UX point of view, what kind of results you get... :)

(N.B. From a Twitter POV, avatars don't necessarily make it easier to see who's saying something, but they do make it easier, I think, to see when the person "talking" *switches*, within an otherwise-unconnected "conversation list". Maybe this is for a separate blogpost ;)

At this moment, I'm not sure Tradespace is right for our company, as our approach to clients is very different. However, I may well experiment with it some time and see if there are bits we can use, or just see what it does. I'm still intrigued by the idea of BT "doing an Etsy" ;) which I guess is a good starting point for you guys...

Thanks again.