Sadly my birthday has already passed this year, but it was relatively recent so if any readers wanted to have a whip-round I’d be happy to accept a joint gift belatedly. No, of course you’re not going to do anything about that, but what if there was a means of doing so for someone you actually knew?
The nature of “knowing” someone has of course changed in recent years. Loads of people have virtual “friends” because of social networks; some of them you’ve met, some of them you haven’t. The curious thing that’s happening to us, however, is that we’ve reached the stage at which we might hear from and converse with our virtual friends more than our ‘actual’ mates – I have friends from my school days who I count as relatively close but if I consider it, I haven’t seen them for a few years.
Presumably this is where the new trend for “social gifting” is emerging from. A Reuters report last week points to services such as Swedish start-up Wrapp as well as established businesses like Starbucks getting into the act. People can club together using an app and buy people gift cards either together or – crucially – together, as long as they’re all linked through Facebook.
As the original Reuters report confirms, e-gifting is only just starting. E-gifting to strangers might seem a little odd. You wonder whether it’s going to work on a large scale.
I hate to do the stereotyping thing but if you ever watch an American TV programme with a live audience you can’t avoid the conclusion that there’s something in this idea that the British are more reserved than other people. This arises from a number of things; the colder climate has historically led us to be largely an indoor race, so we’re typically less expansive because we don’t have to struggle to make ourselves heard. Also there are 60m of us in a very small space relative to, say, France or Germany’s populations, so we’re aware of not encroaching on other people.
Or that could just be amateur psychobabble. Either way, we’re a comparatively undemonstrative bunch. Which is why I can only suspect that the whip-round for a stranger through the ether (which this effectively is) isn’t going to work over here through social media for a while. I emphasise “for a while”. Frankly if my family wanted to do something similar for my own recent birthday they’d have bought Amazon vouchers, for which they don’t have to join Facebook or anything else – they don’t even have to go to the Amazon website as they’re available in supermarkets.
This, however, takes no account of the way a new generation is behaving. In my book, “This Is Social Commerce”, I interview one of the guys from Autoglass. This company has set up a means of reporting your broken windscreen through its Facebook page because customers seem to want to do so. To someone of my generation this is incomprehensible. But that doesn’t matter. It’s happening and people are starting to use Facebook as their digital ‘home’.
If this persists – and I’ve seen a lot of technological certainties come and go over the last quarter of a century or so – then a generation of Facebook-oriented adults will shortly be in the market. And if they can use it as a place to buy their gifts for their friends and family they’ll be perfectly happy with that.
The advantages to Facebook (and Google+ and anyone else who can persuade people to take part, although Facebook is the obvious candidate at the moment) are clear. You’re about to launch an IPO, you want to demonstrate increasing amounts of ways you can make money, you suddenly find retailers wanting to give you a cut of their income – it’s as if Christmas had arrived all over again, and boy will you make a killing when Christmas does arrive.
It’s almost certainly not something for my generation, although that’s something we said about mobile phones too now that I think about it. And I still think gift tokens are just as efficient without tying your friends and family to one particular network. But I have a feeling this is going to be very big. Add the changing nature of ‘friends’ and include those you only know electronically but frequently and it could be colossal.