Just like low wage countries are moving up the value chain in the global outsourcing game, geeks are moving up the levels of business models. I am half way through Carson's workshop The Future of Web Apps in London where both the scheduled sessions and hallway conversations with members of the conference audience are inspiring.
Last year, there was a fair bit of focus on the decreasing cost of launching a consumer web application (£30k was one of the figures mentioned). Today, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels boasted that computing power and storage were not free, but almost. He was speaking about the S3 (storage) and EC2 (processing) services and I didn't know whether to dismiss the 'almost free' claim as a marketing trick until later when a Belgian entrepreneur explained to me that a photo printing service he helped build on the web spent an average of €1 on storage per month.
With the basic plumbing reduced to a commodity, energy and cash are freed up to focus on ideas and innovation. And these days that often means how to cater for the community of people using a company's services. Last.fm, flickr and Digg were hailed as examples of applications with strong communities but all businesses have communities and the more engaged they are in the product or service the stronger the business potential. Even with a million or more customers, we heard examples of how the community was engaged to define the direction of an application, how to make a community police its own members and actions and how to capture behaviour and attention data to improve the quality of the experience for the individual as well as a tool in the fight against spam (social spam as it is known now).
I spoke to a developer who recently joined a generation-old business. It was soon clear to the management that he had arrived with a bunch of new ideas so he was asked to present to the board. The theme of his presentation was 'how to engage with our community of customers'. Today's geeks care about the social model, the customer experience and word-of-mouth marketing. These are at the base of many startups and the principles are permeating to existing businesses.
Or as we heard from venture capitalist fund Index, if there is no buzz about your product or service, consider changing your product instead of increasing your marketing spend.