Designer Showcase Network

I started describing this in Plurk, and the response has, so far, been overwhelmingly positive, so I actually started coding. But for those who do not plurk, I’m going to clean it all up, and turn it into a more coherent text.

Gridwide hunts are legion. Gridwide hunts are popular. And the problems with the currently popular variety of gridwide hunts are numerous, so numerous, in fact, that they put the whole idea in question.

  1. Order of the hunt is strict, largely immutable, and prevents designers at the far end of the chain from getting any return from the hunt at all, regardless of how much work have they put in, because getting stuck somewhere on the way will be an insurmountable obstacle for the majority of the hunters. Handling those obstacles creates extra tension between the designers and the hunters.
  2. The tendency of the designers to hide the items, brought on by the word ‘hunt’, creates undue hardship for the shoppers with the current scale of gridwide hunts (Find 30 tiny items, ok, 300? 500?!) and turns them off from the whole idea.
  3. Limited time during which prizes can be collected creates a requirement for the shoppers who wish to have complete coverage of the hunt offerings (It’s obsessive-compulsive but everyone’s entitled to that.) to spend many hours — and days! — looking for prizes nonstop, which annoys them further.
  4. Pressure on the designer to participate in a hunt like right now causes them to offer prizes which do not represent their full ability and are often simply a poor excuse to participate, which further decreases the chance of positive return from the hunt.
  5. The designers are severely affected by the quality of work of other designersย participatingย in the hunt through no fault of their own. One piece of trash spoils it for everyone else, lots of trash and even the really good stuff gets ignored.
  6. Large numbers of hunt prizes collected in a short period of time create mountains of unsorted inventory which frequently get deleted wholesale with no consideration of their merits or possible merits of the designer’s other offerings.

In short, as they are now, gridwide hunts do not increase sales or exposure significantly, and are a waste of time of the organisers and shoppers and designer effort — like someone said to me just today, People are so busy HUNTING for free, they dont have time to SHOP! Free things as such do not kill the economy, since actual demand for virtual objects is almost limitless, but time spent looking for them is a limited resource, it’s the time that could be spent deciding whether to buy something else.

Nevertheless, the gridwide hunts have certain points which are beneficial for both the shoppers and the designers:

  • Shoppers have the opportunity to become aware of new, potentially interesting shops, that they would not have otherwise, or are reminded of places they could have otherwise forgotten.
  • Designers get extra exposure of their brand and actual work through samples distributed to the stream of shoppers that actually gets to them, never mind that they run away immediately.

Well, it is possible to create a system that has all of the good points and none of the bad, and I’m almost done doing it. It achieves that through being neither gridwide, nor a hunt. The working title is Designer Showcase Network.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Designers receive a kit, which contains a few varieties of a billboard to put in their shops, and a copyable dropbox. They put the free sample that they think best represents their design efforts into a box and let it register with the central server.
  2. Shoppers see a billboard, and upon clicking it are given the option to subscribe to the network. They are now subscribers in the network.
  3. Every morning, (05:00 GMT right now, but that’s immaterial) for every subscriber, the server selects exactly one random designer from the list of registered designers, and commands their dropbox to send the free sample contained therein to that subscriber.
    • A different free sample is selected independently for every subscriber.
    • No subscriber will ever receive the same free sample twice, or, for that matter, get it in any other manner.
    • After M days, where M is the number of designers, every subscriber will have received a sample from every designer.
    • Every day, every designer’s dropbox will send it’s contents to N subscribers, where N depends on the total number of subscribers and a random element. I.e. if there’s 100 designers in the system and 1000 subscribers, every day, every sample will be picked for sending to about 10 subscribers.

It’s a bit more complex than that in practice, because the network offers seven independent ‘channels’ subdivided by type of items (Female Fashion, Male Fashion, House and Garden, Vehicles and Gadgets, Skins and Hair, Animations and Poses, Jewelry and Accessories) and designers active in more than one field can set up more than one dropbox, but that’s the gist of it.

What’s in it for the subscribers?

  • You start every morning with news of a new, possibly unknown shop (or several, if you subscribed to more than one channel) to check out, and a sample of what they have to offer, that you can examine before you go there to decide whether it’s worth going there at all.
  • You don’t end up with a mountain of inventory to sort and can make your decisions on the new offerings as they come.
  • No need to go anywhere or hunt for anything and suffer the lag — the samples will find you all on their own.

What’s in it for the designers?

  • Instead of a flock of visitors who come, grab your stuff, lag everything up and don’t buy anything, you will get a small but steady stream of actual clients, (actually, steadily increasing, as more subscribers join) people who have come to your shop on a lead from a free sample that they have already seen, and are far more likely to give your merchandise a fair chance — otherwise they just don’t come. I.e. instead of traffic, this system promotes actual sales, which should have been the point in the first place.
  • Your free sample arrives alone, giving the subscriber ample time to think about it seriously rather than consider it among a mountain of other inventory. It will be evaluated on it’s merits alone, which makes those merits more likely to be seen.
  • The network doesn’t have to stop or start and can continue into infinity, it is never too late to join it as a designer or subscribe to it. No matter when did you join the network, your chance of being exposed to potential clients is exactly the same as everyone else’s.

In short, everyone’s going to be happy and nobody has to get nailed to anything.

The project progresses nicely, with all the core code complete, I just need to finish debugging and testing it, and writing all the documentation and associated materials.

I hope it goes live by the weekend.

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36 thoughts on “Designer Showcase Network

  1. Rika I just love this idea! A few questions, tho…

    First, in the original plurk it was mentioned that the designers should offer a free sample of some current piece of merchandise. Is this a hard/fast, enforcable rule and are there any limitations? For example: would a skin or hair designer sending out a set of demos be allowed? What about creating and sending out a custom recolor (designer showcase exclusive) of a currently offered product? If there are “rules” to what can/can’t be used, will there be any way to enforce or report?

    Secondly, is a designer only allowed 1 free sample item per channel, and if so how would it be handled if, let’s say in a month’s time the designer releases a new item that they would prefer to be the free sample instead of the one they had for the previous month, would the designer be able to switch these, and would people who already received the first item be eligible to receive the new one? (I’m talking about within the same channel)

    Again, brilliant idea Rika. Can’t wait to try it out!

  2. I dread the idea of having to moderate every designer offering, since they will inevitably pile up very, very fast, just like in a gridwide hunt. The only rules regarding items sent I plan to have and enforce seriously are: 1) Don’t put items into wrong channels, because that’s cheating other designers. For this, channels will be defined very clearly. 2) Don’t send out items classified as adult by LL. Ask LL what ‘adult’ means, but I don’t want to end up on the receiving end of an AR, and LL has given me no technology with which to restrict adult items only to people who have consented to receive them and are sufficiently age-verified to receive them.

    I also plan to warn the designers against the use of Business-in-a-box items and other things they did not make themselves, but there is no way I could catch that readily if it happens and it’s their own funeral in the end, so this cannot be readily enforced.

    Other than that, a free sample is a free sample. In this system, that free sample is the only thing you have available to win subscribers over and convince them to check you out, there are no other considerations other than perhaps a notecard full of your box labels, so if you think you can convince them with one shoe out of a pair, you’re welcome to try and see what happens. I expect that on a weekend, when someone busy is checking out the samples that came in during the week, shops that have sent in full products will be checked out more readily, but – who knows? It depends on how good the demo is and how good the full product is. My recommendation would be to put a full product rather than a demo, because free samples also promote your shop indirectly, through people wearing them and other people who see them asking them where they got it. Nobody’s going to be wearing a demo or a single shoe for long. However, that choice is entirely yours.

    It could, in fact, be a good idea to put one of your actual, for-sale products into the box and change that product every few weeks — this way, if people explicitly recommend that product to someone else after having gotten it as a free sample, those they recommend it to will end up buying it. I’m afraid there’s no substitute to experimentation, but 1) copying products does not actually cost you anything, and “potential profit” is too potential to consider seriously, while exposure is exposure, and 2) placing an item in the dropbox does not mean that every subscriber will instantly get it — only a random portion will, and the size of that portion can be estimated by dividing the number of subscribers by the number of designers.

    There is nothing to stop you from changing the item that is in your dropbox at any moment, but every subscriber will only receive one item from one designer in any given channel. While I can, obviously, clear the entire set of transaction data for any given designer-channel pair and recycle the system, I have elected not to make this an option designers can choose on their own — otherwise, it would be entirely too easy to spam the same people with new things every week and rob the other participating designers of their rightful chances. If it ever so happens that your sample has been sent to ALL subscribers in a given channel — unlikely, but possible, if a channel is not terribly popular — I can obviously do that manually and give the designer the chance to try again.

  3. Great idea Rika – sign me up for it!

    One question. There is no mention of cost anywhere. Are you giving this away as a gift to the SL community or will there be a charge involved? Your time, skill and effort developing and maintaining this scheme would warrent a charge, certainly. Presumably that will be to the designers rather than subscribers? How much would that be do you think?

    One of the key things about using hunts as promotion is they are free to participate in as a designer (other than the gift itself) and so designers aren’t excluded due to their success/longevity/wealth. Too high a fee and this fantastic idea will become an exclusive members club rather than a tool that gives everyone an equal chance as hunts currently do.

  4. this really is brilliant and the work you have already put into it is amazing, kudos to you.

    Just a thought about allowing demos… I wonder if “allowing” demos will see some stores taking advantage of the opportunity to get the benefits of the system without actually contributing a gift item. If this became a common practice, your system will suffer the same fatigue as the hunts do “why do i bother signing up for this if so much of what i get is not wearable?” and the participant will unsubscribe, preventing further exposure to other stores.

    Other than that, I cant wait to get my greedy little hands on those subscription billboards!
    -Ely

  5. i like parts of the idea. the one thing i have enjoyed about hunts (which i did the first for fun) then have participated in 2 others was the fact that people came into my shop. i didn’t hide my things hard at all but i did get a TON of customers who had never been to my store and the advantage of them coming to get the “sample or gift” is that they can actually see your shop, get a feel for what you do, and with this system, i don’t see people tping over after getting a nice item as they don’t have to do anything. just my 2 cents as far as the benefit of the hunts. the longer hunts are great cuz there is not the lag factor.

    i don’t do every hunt, i don’t even know when most of them start, but they have been a great way for me to meet new ppl and for new people to learn about my stuff.

    ok well i wish you luck as you refine this great idea ๐Ÿ™‚

    xoxo,

    caLLie

  6. I would like to run this for free, but I can’t — if it grows to the scale of a gridwide hunt, the database will eventually contain something to the tune of 2 million transaction records, I’ll need to upgrade the server plan. I expect to charge the designers for the kit, rather than subscribers, because the value of it for the designers directly depends on how many subscribers are out there, and the best motivation for a subscription is that subscription being free.

    There definitely won’t be a running charge since I don’t expect to need it. I’m planning on an entry fee between L$200 and L$500, but have not decided on an exact amount – enough to deter get-rich-quick spammers, not enough to pose much of a problem for a designer starting out.

  7. These are my totally practical, logical comments for you Rika. Nothing personal at all because I worship the ash that falls from your cigarette.

    Charging people that amount to join is too high, certainly for me and lots of other small stores where people might not have been. It immediately puts larger stores in the advantage (the large stores that everyone has already seen!)

    The vast majority of stores already have a freebie there somewhere for people to find and sample the goods. Your system would be giving a freebie from the store, and hoping people would visit. Many would NOT visit unless something specific was being given in store too. They would just nab their daily freeb. A store would still be better off advertising in a group like spamcon, oops I mean fashcon, with a landmark to their store so people visit to get the freebie.

    Your system could send out a daily landmark to users and tell them go there get freebie now! This would get people into the store, nabbing the freebie and hopefully shopping. Unlike a group notice the flow would be small and gradual.
    Cons with that is some wont bother to go if they dont like the name on the landmark (ducknipple anyone?), or they will log in at the weekend and a flurry of people will turn up on the same day. Remember that real traffic, real as in people shopping, not bots, doubles at the weekend. Those people are only there for the weekend and cram all their landmark browsing, gift opening stuff in that time. Same for hunts.

    Also as soon as you have thought of an idea someone somewhere is copying it. So we will end up with 200 such networks – skin-o-spam, hairy-free-sender, kids-fer-jebus-freebs, etc.

    So we all get piles of freebies every day and dont have to hunt or go anywhere just sit at home scoffing cupcakes and deleting masses of freebies.
    Thats a worse case scenario.

    The major problem right now with your idea is that traffic bots are being banned so big name sims are gonna be doing all kinds of stuff to get traffic from humans, big hunts, giant freefests, who knows what.

    So anyway, told you I would crash if I opened the link ๐Ÿ˜›

  8. Now, to explain this a bit further, why a sample – and not just a landmark or a notecard.

    You may not think much of it, but all designers are actually in a competition for the money of everyone else, trying to tempt them into paying them that money through offers of merchandise. The income of an average non-designer is normally rather limited (let’s set aside how did I manage to spend something to the tune of L$150000 on various stuff in the five months before I started my own business — and no, I did not own land at all for half of this period) but the demand for virtual products is practically bottomless, you cannot expect to ever fill it completely. If you doubt, just count how many pairs of shoes you have, and how many wigs of hair. Then think why would you stop buying more.

    There’s at least 2000 designers out there and every shopper is in effect alone in making the decision on how to spend that L$300-L$1000 they get to spend every week. So what we have is an audience that makes decisions constantly. They’re your jury. There is nothing that makes them buy your products. There’s 1999 other sources for them out there. In that competition, an expanding returns model is in effect, because designers who have more sales can afford more advertising and more aggressive marketing measures, and more points of sale, but advertising is generally ineffective, tastes are fickle, and fortune can come and go as it damn well pleases. But the quality of work, if you’re serious about it in any way, doesn’t go down. Yet, for an aspiring new designer breaking the curve of initial exposure is quite hard regardless of quality of their work. This project essentially puts them in exactly the same conditions as the older and more established brands, and this is what is good about any gridwide hunt – everyone’s in the lineup. The order of the lineup in a gridwide hunt matters, though. In the network it does not.

    Now, what the network offers you is one shot per shopper per category, no more and no less. Shots are done in a random sequence, and you get sufficient statistics to assess how successful they were (compare the list of the people who got your free sample and your visitor lists, as well as your sales lists) and an option to change your strategy at any moment. But they don’t get anything except your sample to know you and your offerings. If you send out a demo, and everyone else is sending out a full product, if your demo is not sufficient to interest the shoppers anyway, you’re only hurting yourself. If you send out just a landmark, you’re squandering your chance because next to you in the random lineup something much more interesting is very likely to show up.

    What you’re doing when you’re giving away a freebie in your shop or sending a free sample through the network is trading potential profit for actual exposure. Potential profit has that very interesting quality of being a probability value only, it may or may not ever materialise — you do not have a limited amount of free samples to give away, copying them costs you absolutely nothing and can at any time reprice it. You’re getting more actual exposure per unit if you offer the free sample outside of your shop, because people who came to your shop to get your freebie have already seen it and got that freebie to remember it by rather than to know it.

    Granted, one person who has your product already will not pay for it a second time, but according to estimates given in this blog much earlier, the active population of Second Life is close to about 100’000 people. So strategically what you should be doing is trying to become known to as many of them as possible and outdo the competition at the same time. The network offers you that opportunity — the subscriber list is very likely to only grow continuously, and through your sample you adress exactly one avatar, always a new one. But they’re the ones with the money, they have a limited amount of it, and you compete for it.

    I’m offering you a brutally honest way to do it and may the best avatars win.

  9. Then the flaw in your system is that of 2000 designers there’s maybe an absolute maximum of 50 that are high quality.
    The others will send samples of their wares and they will not be high quality, the other designers depend on having less expensive items, or cutesy stuff, or very seasonal items to wear for just one day.

    I agree with your other points, but people dont buy because something is high quality, sometimes I have to actually avoid buying high quality furniture because it makes the rest of my stuff look like crap.

    I buy items that I like the look of regardless of the quality, one designer makes poor quality items that I think look ‘homemade’ and a bit tacky and I find it adorable. And her items are expensive too lol.

  10. If all I get is a landmark and a demo, I’m not bothering to join the group. Since you mentioned the cost would fall on the designer, not the shopper, you’ll get thousands upon thousands of people joining this group. Say only 50 designers sign up at first, but 5000 shoppers sign up. That means that as soon as that designer sends out their landmark for their faildemo, the store will be flooded. I don’t want to waste my time doing that.

    I’d rather think of this club as a fruit of the month or whatever opportunity. As someone who DOES spend a nice chunk of change in SL, I would love to find new and interesting designers. However, they need to work for my dollar, not the other way around. They can send it out so I can try it on privately or I won’t bother.

  11. Well, tastes differ, and shop specializations and styles also differ. Assume I make Widgets… Come to think of it, I in fact do make Widgets — my MystiTool plugins are highly specialised products that have a very limited audience. That audience, however, is tightly knit, and I pulled through anyway.

    Audience for other kinds of Widgets won’t be so tightly knit or even know they can be grouped. How do they know my shop? Word of mouth, keyword search… but these means are ineffective and are still shooting in the dark.

    Well, the network is shooting (almost) in the dark – the wide categories amount to basic targeting but no more. But it covers large amounts of people steadily over time, and with inevitability, matches will happen.

  12. I HAVE TO BE PART OF THIS!!! what a fantastic idea – thank you for doing it! can’t wait to get it going!!

  13. Rika, I want to pay you in advance to fund your code work on this, then you can make it quicker, please let us know how much to pay you.

  14. @Lalinda: Now that would be silly, more money won’t let me make it quicker. ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. In this particular case, I cannot use the money to pay someone to do my work without spending more time explaining than I would doing it myself. ๐Ÿ™‚

    There’s no need, anyway. It’s working already. I’m just adding last minute features like the daily automated “Featured Designer” posting and working on the docs and blog web design. If I didn’t care that it’s all plywood boxes right now, I could release it more or less this instant.

  16. The problem of low quality, less expensive, or seasonal items is the same problem you find with hunts, lucky chairs, and many other freebies. Isn’t it expected that you will have to sort through the freebies you don’t like in order to find those you do? I know most people don’t mind doing this.

    It’s an incredibly innovative idea, Rika. Definitely count me in!

  17. To kellie, I am majorly less fussy than most people, I like 95% of what I find in hunts, as a result I have a bulging monster inventory that takes forever to load.
    I know most people are a lot more picky than me, including Rika herself re: bunny hop post.
    When I get seasonal items I keep them for next halloween, xmas, easter and so on. This year I will have my fourth sl halloween and I will duly take out my original funny little decorations that I made as a newbie and have kept for each year.

  18. I am so in, My store just really consists of things i fancy so i need to think on a single product that fits. I do everything and anything i can think of from poses (posing hamburger) to prefabs to furniture to skin and clothes and accessories and randomness. So It will be a tough call but the idea is too great not to give it a try.

  19. I can’t agree with the poster who says that $200-500L is too much for someone to pay to join. Just refrain from buying one hair and one outfit the next time you want them and you have your $500L to spend on something that might end up making you much more than that if you have quality product. I don’t think $2.50 USD is going to break even the newest designer.

    I think this could be a very good thing and when its available, I plan to tell my designer friends about it ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. Hi – I see a lot of posts from designers I know here and that is a great thing. This is a wonderful idea as I know from many of my friends and readers that they never get around to opening hunt boxes anyway.

    I just wanted to put forth a couple of thoughts from the consumer’s perspective. While “I” as a blogger would most likely go to a shop if given a great picture and a LM, 90% or so of folks will not, so the landmark idea basically won’t work. It is just Fashcon all over again ๐Ÿ˜€ People are generally lazy, but many of them actually do want to buy and are looking for new (to them) designers to buy from.

    If demos become part of the mix, I can pretty much guarantee that the people signing up will start tossing the boxes. We get way too many demos as it is. An extra not for sale color of a new product would most likely be the best gift and costs very little in time or effort.

    Just my two cents worth. Looking forward to it!

  21. Chic, I have to disagree. As a freebie blogger, I know the kind of traffic I’m generating for the designers because some report back to me, and I’ve stood there and watched it for myself….and all they’re getting off the blog is a picture and a slurl.

  22. I love the fact that this will offer many different options from Home and Garden to Fashion to Animations. And it’s not a billion things coming in at once or hunting for it cause I’m lazy.

    I would love to be both a subscriber and a creator

    (misty harley)

  23. This is, indeed, a brilliant marketing idea. As someone who creates hunts and participates in a few, I worry, though, that it takes away one of the things I like best about the process: The Fun. When I create a hunt I try to make the process fun by placing the gifts in amusing containers and/or amusing places. The gifts themselves are usually fun, too, despite the grief I get for not providing top-shelf expensive items. The greed and drama I see in hunts of late have really turned me off the whole idea, though. Perhaps your new system is the future.

  24. HoneyBear — I’m not sure we are disagreeing. I have watched Fashcon posts come out over and over again with pics and SLURLs and been the only one for some time at a site. I’ve even stuck around to see if anyone showed up. When YOU blog, the people are getting your stamp of approval so to speak.

    That’s a whole different ball game than just a picture and a SLURL from the creator. You don’t give yourself enough credit maybe? (big grin) And yes, I have also seen that my posts have changed the flow of avatars — to lucky chairs for example. No disagreement there ๐Ÿ˜€

    We have ALL been to shops where we thought something looked OK from a Fashcon post or a designer blog and found out it was so NOT OK. So we, the bloggers, are in some ways a “filter”. Smiles.

  25. Uccie, hunts have got a bit out of hand as of late. During Summer last year I particiapted in a few and it was fun. Later I had my shop in some and it was exciting and brought revenue. Lately however there seems to be almost weekly new gridwide hunts of massive sizes, and it is simply no fun anymore. What happens is that you read a blogpost “Got XYZ as huntgift from ABC” and instead of doing the full hunt you go to ABC and see if you can find the huntgrift. The massive amount of hunts makes it boring and even stressful.

    I don’t think hunts are dead. I think gridwide hunts might soon be in coma for a long time, and instead we see small shop- or mallwide hunts flourish again. Designers and shop-owners like you, who make a neat little hunt, with an overseeable number of treasures in an overseeable area. Something that gives you 30min of challenge and some reward. (I should mention that Rika has an awesome system to semi-automate exactly this kind of hunt).

    Basically the concept of gridwide hunts is odd isnofar as it leads to people coming to your shop, trying to find the treasure as quick as possible, and leaving again. What an odd concept considering you want them to look at your merchandise.

    The Designer Showcase Network turns this around. You don’t want useless traffic, you want customers. So instead of inflating your traffic by bring in loads of people into your shop who do not buy, you send a promotional sample to potential customers which they can inspect at their leisure in the comfort of their own home. And IF they come to your shop, you can be sure it is because they liked your sample and want to check out your other offerings.

  26. I hate gridhunts and I am really not sure if people doing them even look at other merchandises than the one they hunt.
    That ‘s why I think your idea is wonderful. As a customer, I am interested in quality stuff…and whatever anyone can say, that is not so easy to find quality stuff. by receiving a sample , you can easily judge the ability and the talent of the designer and then, TP to have an idea of the rest of the products and …buy them if you like…
    Congrats for the idea and making it true Rika…

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