It was just a matter of time. Just like shopping is often a social activity, Web browsing/shopping should be too. So it came as no surprise to me that Mozilla recently launched "The Coop", which includes social networking features directly in the browser. BusinessWeek covered the news. I have been using Flock for awhile, which is based on Mozilla/Firefox, but The Coop seems more "socially connected" to me. The surprising thing is that Microsoft hasn't already released similar features (perhaps you are slower to innovate when you own almost 80% of the Web browser market). With their resources and the lead that Google and Yahoo! have on social networking, it seems like Microsoft would be gunning to catch up. Sure, they have Windows Live Spaces, but it is no MySpace or Facebook (or YouTube or Yahoo! Answers). And it is strange that Apple is behind too.
In any case, I view the Mozilla news as very significant. Just like del.icio.us and StumbleUpon have Web browser plug-ins that drive high adoption of their services, so will "The Coop". Instead of visiting Facebook as a Web destination, The Coop integrates it directly into your Web browser. Kelly Mooney of Resource Interactive showed a great demo of "social shopping" at the Shop.org Annual Summit last year. Resource Interactive had created the demo for Victoria's Secret Pink. Via mobile and the Web, they made it appear easy for an in-store shopper to share an outfit that she was thinking of buying with her friends online. Everyone benefited from the resulting feedback and shopping list it created for all. Millennials have been shown to follow each other more than the more "independent" generations of the past, so the Resource demo seemed like a natural evolution. And it is no mistake that The Coop chose Facebook as their embedded partner, as Facebook is most heavily used by Millennials.
The Coop will accelerate the hyper-education of consumers that is underway. It is just a matter of time when consumers have nearly instant access to global peer ratings and reviews on any product, service, place, person, or thing. Access no matter if they are shopping online or offline. While that may sound scary, it will actually be a beautiful thing. Markets will become democratized, the voice of the marketplace will be "rediscovered", smart companies will react quickly, and as a result "consuming" will be driven to higher levels as shoppers gain more confidence to buy when leveraging the wisdom of the crowd. Manufacturers will build better products, service providers will respond with better services, and companies will become more customer-centric. Everyone will benefit, but the short-term disruption will make the old guard question the revolution underway. Change is often difficult.
Expect Microsoft to quickly follow Mozilla, as they did with tabbed browsing and other Mozilla-led innovations. It is just a matter of time before social networking becomes intimately interwoven in all Web browsers. And then we will all wonder why it took so long as adoption skyrockets.
And speaking of revolutions, have you seen the short film, "Web 2.0 – The Machine Is Us/ing Us"? The Kevin Kelly article it references is brilliant, and the film itself is pretty cool. It's a powerfully brief summary of Web history.