Let’s Stop Imitating Amazon and Make E-Commerce Fun Again

Has online shopping become boring? Every website shows you grids of categories and products, with cross-sells and up-sells. Scroll down and you might see a few reviews. Somewhere are the same add coupons, sign up for our emails, and free shipping offers you’ve probably seen a hundred times already.

The sad truth is that there has been very little innovation in e-commerce. Online retailers seem content being electronic catalogs of products, competing with each other on pricing and fulfillment. (Save an additional 5% and get free next day shipping!) In other words, we’re all stuck imitating Amazon.com.

Does it have to be like this? May be not: there are actually other reasons why retailers exist in the first place. Imagine you just invented The Cool Gadget ™. Here are some good reasons for signing up resellers:

1. Distribution. Retailers get your product to the end consumer by putting it online or in a store, warehousing, fulfilling the orders, and collecting payments. It’s a lot of mundane yet important steps.

2. Support. The retailer helps answer your customers’ questions, so they could understand and use your product properly. Often this means answering the same questions over and over again.

3. Integration. Your product is great, but how does it help me look better, get connected, and stay cool? The retailer could show the consumer how to meet these important life with your product, often by combining it with other products.

But today, most online retailers function solely as distributors and just list products and fulfill orders. Customer support is limited to basic order fulfillment information, and few online retailers even think of themselves as helping to meet their customers’ life needs. Hence the sad trend of “Showrooming”, where customers go research at local stores then try to find deals online.

Which is where we are today: After nearly 20 years, ecommerce is settling into middle age as a junior partner on the retail scene.

But it would be dangerous to get complacent: There is a new generation of online shoppers. They were born after the Internet, and to them, online is the first and best way to learn about…everything. They will want to use the web (and their phone) not just to buy products they’ve already seen in a retail store, but also help satisfy their deepest needs.

Would you be doing that for them?

Our Responsibility: Making the World Better with Technology and Open Communities

What do you say when people ask, “Why do you do your job?

Is it a mix of I’ve-done-it-for-years, I’m-good-at-it, and it-makes-me-money?

That’s all fine and good, but please take a moment to think about the bigger picture: Our world is heading to a peak population of 9 billion people within our lifetime.  More than two billion people have no access to drinking water.  Over a billion people live in urban slums.

The same skills that you already have — designing and building technology and online communities — could solve problems like these for billions of people.  So as important as your day job may be, think about how to use what you already know to make a bigger difference.  When you are part of something bigger than yourself, you’ll find it giving you a fresh sense of purpose and making you feel more alive as well.

That is what we are going to be doing as well.  Going forward, please go to opentaps.com to follow the development of our business application software.  Meanwhile, here we will be focusing on how technology — specifically open source software — and open communities could help solve some of the world’s bigger challenges, such as energy, water, and housing.

opentaps.com and the Next Generation of opentaps

When we started opentaps nine years ago, our goal was to create great business software from open source.  And have we ever!  Most people wouldn’t have believed that enterprise-class open source ERP and CRM was possible, but we did it — thanks to Linux, Apache, MySQL, PostgreSQL, OFBiz, JasperReports, and many others open source projects.

The world, meanwhile, has moved forward too.  It’s no secret that the future of software is mobile, social, and big data, and open source software is moving in those directions as well.

What does this mean for real businesses?

Imagine being able to capture all your interactions with customers as they happen: by email, on twitter/Facebook/pinterest, via text messages, or by phone.  Anywhere.  Any time.  Any how.

Then imagine being able to use that information to make your customers happier — and sell more.

That’s what we think a whole new generation of open source software could do for you.  And we’ve started by creating a whole new opentaps to do it.  Because it is built with a whole new different set of open source technologies and a different cloud-open source business model, we’ve created a new site at opentaps.com for this new product.  Meanwhile, the existing open source ERP and CRM lives on at opentaps.org and will continue to evolve.

We hope you’ll join for the next phase of our journey — the best is yet to come.

opentaps CRM2: A New Way To Do It

If you’ve ever thought, “There’s got to be a better way,” take a look at opentaps CRM2.

The new opentaps CRM2 takes a completely different approach to opentaps 1.x or any other major CRM system out there.  Instead of having all these screens and forms for you to come and enter data, we’re bringing opentaps CRM to you:  We’re automatically capturing the discussions, emails, and tasks that are the back bone of your relationships with your customers, bringing them into the cloud, and helping you manage them there.

Oh, also: We’re making it as easy as possible for you.  There’s no big software package to download or install.  No database to set up and maintain.  No code base to merge and upgrade.  You don’t even have to ask your users to stop using their favorite email program.  You just sign up for an account, plug a few simple widgets into your existing opentaps instance, and synch up your users and emails.

Then just sit back and relax.  Everybody just keeps working as before.   But from your web interface, you’ll see all the emails and discussions back and forth between your company, your customers, and your vendors:

opentaps CRM2 Dashboard

opentaps CRM2 will even help you find the emails related to your orders, invoices, and payments automatically (and it would be very easy to get it to do the same for quotes, production runs, etc. — whatever your company works around):

CRM2 Discussion Thread

Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?  Our beta users have thought so for about a year now.  Why don’t you give it a try and let us know how it goes?

Who’s the Real Social Network: Email, Text, Facebook, or Twitter?

Ever wonder how people really connect these days?  Here are the numbers:

Daily volume of email, facebook likes, text/sms, tweets

Daily volume of email, facebook likes, text/sms, tweets

  • Emails: 182.9 billion per day
  • Text: 6 billion (Note: this is declining.)
  • Facebook: 4.75 billion Likes
  • Twitter: 0.5 billion

Even with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, old-fashioned email is still how most of us connect online most of the time.

Sources: radicati (emails), Expandable Ramblings/Facebook (Facebook), Forrester (text/SMS), Twitter (tweets).

 

A New Philosophy for opentaps

With the first widgets for opentaps 2 are some big changes: Not just a new look and feel or a new technical framework, but a whole new philosophy for building better software with open communities.   This philosophy could be summed up as:

Make opentaps Benefit the Maximum Number of People

Simple as it sounds, but unfortunately this is not how most business software is built: Most business software is very targeted to a small group of users, and their creators and consumers often focus more on features lists than actual usefulness.

For us, this philosophy required fundamental re-thinking about how we did things and three goals for opentaps:

1.  Make it Easy

opentaps should be easy: easy to set up, easy to use, and easy to extend.  It should be hosted so you don’t have to download and install anything.  It should work where and how you want to work.  Finally, if you know any programming, you should be able to extend it without learning a new framework or language.

2.  Make it Inclusive

We want as many people as possible using and extending opentaps.  This means no matter what your preferred tools — Java, .NET, PHP, Ruby, or Javascript, you should be able to work with opentaps.  To make this happen, opentaps needs to be more than just modular.  It needs to be independent, so that each part of it could be written and maintained by different developers in different languages.

3.  Make it Useful for Everybody

We’re not here just to build an ERP or a CRM.  We want to help any group, no matter how big or small, work together more effectively.  The first opentaps was good for big companies with teams of programmers or consultants.   We want the new opentaps to work for everybody.

Tell us how opentaps could make your organization work more effectively.  We’re listening.

The Opportunity in Business Software, By The Numbers

How well is software meeting the needs of today’s businesses?  Let’s take a look at the numbers:

Number of Businesses using Salesforce, Quickbooks vs. total US Businesses

Amazing, isn’t it?

As great as Salesforce.com and Quickbooks are, there is a big and unmet need for business software still.

Looking for Node.JS/Javascript/MongoDB Developers

We’re looking for developers who’d like to work with on server-side Node.JS, client-side Javascript/CSS/HTML5, and MongoDB database back end applications.

If this sounds like as much fun to you as it does to us, please contact us right away!  We’re really flexible and can accommodate part-time or full-time, remote or on-site.

Big Data, Manufacturing, and an Invisible Future for Software

There’s an interesting article in The Wall Street Journal about Big Data in Manufacturing.  Manufacturers are now leveraging sensors and scanners throughout the factory floor to collect data about everything from screw turns to temperature and humidity in an effort to improve quality.  My favorite part is actually this line:

In the past, some of that data had to be typed in, creating the risk of errors.

This is the future of software: invisibility.  The days of us sitting in front of a computer typing in data are numbered.  With the cost of data collection, storage, and analysis all plummeting, the software of the future will gather data seamlessly from your activities.  You will no longer have to tell your software what to do — it knows.  You will no longer have to put in strict relationships between data (this email is for this order) — it can figure it out.

One day, a six-year-old will ask you “Grandpa, did you really have to sit at a computer to order things online?”  What can you say?  Maybe “Yeah, but my grandpa had to shovel coal in the snow, so it wasn’t so bad.”

Looking for Java/OSGI, Javascript/CSS/HTML5, and MongoDb Developers

We’re looking for developers who’d like to work with on server-side OSGi Java, client-side Javascript/CSS/HTML5, and MongoDB database back end applications.  (See opentaps 2 framework.)

If this sounds like as much fun to you as it does to us, please contact us right away!  We’re really flexible and can accommodate part-time or full-time, remote or on-site.