When Levine, Locke, Searls and Weinberger told us in The Cluetrain Manifesto (1999) "Markets are conversations" we should have readily seen the corollary would not be far behind: Conversations become markets.
The first web marketplaces democratized the ability to sell physical goods, such as E-Bay (founded 1995) and Etsy (founded 2005).
Amazon, started in 1995, launched third-party selling as Zshops in 1999. That change, along with services to independent publishers, really made Amazon a marketplace rather than just a retailer.
Digital goods marketplaces got going with photography. The one that comes to mind (there were likely others) is iStockPhoto, started in 2000. Typography, icons, and other graphic elements are all now available in marketplaces such as Creative Market (founded 2011.)
There are also markets for work. Originally launched as a platform to support virtual work in 1999, ELance really took off when it launched the vendor management system, creating a marketplace. Followed by ODesk (2006) the two have since merged as Upwork. Niche models for creative work exist at 99Designs (2008), Fiverr and similar sites, also designed to bring buyers and sellers together in a marketplace for knowledge work.
Teachers Pay Teachers (founded in 2006), and its many imitators, opened the door to regular working people to monetize their intellectual property -- their knowledge and experience -- into passive income.
Flevy, founded in 2012, is a marketplace for business documents. You might think that the free stuff available in places like LinkedIn and SlideShare would make such a business impossible, but apparently not. (I myself have a document for sale in that particular marketplace.)
Online marketplaces also exist for financial transactions, bringing lenders and borrowers together. Lending Club launched in 2007, initially as a Facebook application.
The decision of Sears in 2009 and Best Buy in 2011 to let third party sellers utilize their fulfillment systems shows how much the marketplace concept has challenged traditional retail models, even online retail models.
Conversations become markets
We could certainly generalize that conversations become markets, since many of the places people gather online are working toward commercialization. Facebook is of course, almost the perfect example. Yes, there is advertising, but the easy ability to open pages and even stores on Facebook has opened e-commerce to practically anyone. It now offers the digital equivalent of the shopping mall cart -- a low-cost low-risk place to test out a new commercial venture.
The web enables small things to work as much as large things: micro-enterprise run by micro-preneurs. The better the tools get, and they are getting very good indeed, the easier it will be to monetize pretty much anything you think has value to someone else.
Will these integrated marketplaces dominate? What makes them work? More on that in the next post.