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While a vast majority of the media seems preoccupied with what the Next Big Thing will be online, there is scarcely any coverage of a monster future trend which will sweep across nearly all interesting online sites. And it represents a multi-billion dollar market, which will transform and touch not only the way that people utilize online services, but also online search.

Before diving in, a quick look at the macro economics picture will set the stage for what I call the upcoming "Finder's Economy". If you at all believe that our planet's exponentially growing human population (~7 billion) is running into carrying capacity and resource constraint issues, then it follows that we will consume incrementally less per-person, over time. And stuff will become more expensive. So how do we transform a world of billions from a consumption to a services economy? This is the environment which will yield the "Finder's Economy".

The Finder's Economy is to online, what "gophers" (go for this, go for that), secretaries, agents, personal assistants and the like are to your life offline. Except that many of an online finder's activities can be done remotely, and in a very competitive environment. This is best explained by a set of examples because it crosses so many boundaries.

Example#1: Dating. Basic: finders within a dating site do searches for you and locate suitable dating prospects. If you like their finds, you tip them. If you have successful dates, you tip them even more. Let finders compete on speed & quality. Or stick with a given finder. Advanced: you give certain finders access to a calendar, they find you dates and book them for you, and tell you where/when to meet. You just show up. Even better, they post your profile to as many sites as you want, and do searches on all the sites. Maybe they even ask (unpleasant) questions for you, due diligence, etc. You exchange your money for their time. Which will be the 1st online site to implement this to differentiate, and to skim some commissions on the tips/fees? [e.g. match.com, Yahoo! Personals?(NASDAQ:YHOO)]

Example#2: Music. You describe your tastes and give examples of music on your play list. Finders scour the tune-o-sphere, and find awesome new music. They do all the work listening to samples, sorting through new releases, etc. They produce, you tip. [e.g. iTunes (NASDAQ:AAPL)?]

Example#3: Gifts. It can be challenging coming up with exciting gift ideas. One possibility is to have a profile of the people who you'd like to buy gifts for along with a history of stuff already purchased for them. Combine that with a calendar of birthdays, anniversaries, etc, and it'd be really helpful to have some creative types with time on their hands make some suggestions. Extra credit if they buy the items, gift wrap them, and send a nice card too. This kind of Finder's business scales for the good ones, because you can have a lot of clients and select from a set portfolio of items. [e.g. Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)]

Example#4: Fun events/restaurants. I spend quite a bit of time myself dialing into what cool and interesting events are going on. I'd pay to have someone scanning all of my "what's going on" sites periodically, and notifying me of events which fit my profile. [e.g. Yelp, meetup.com, ...]

Example#5: Competitive diligence. These days, new competition springs up by the minute, and in any part of the Globe. Finders could be a valuable resource, adding a near real-time addition to a company's competitive strategy. [e.g. VCs, startups]

Example#6: Job hunting. Finders could transform the world of recruiting from a more limited scope retainer-based placement, to a giant scope many-to-many tip-based proposition. [e.g. LinkedIn, monster.com (NYSE:MWW), ...]

Etc, etc, etc.

You get the idea. How the Finder's Economy will play out in implementation, I believe will be manyfold. First, you'll see central finder marketplaces spring up, where you can seek the services of finders for many kinds of things. Secondly, key sites will implement their own finder ecosystems where they can exert their own enforcement and control. And of course, in transition, I imagine people will find hacks to tag legacy systems so that finders know when a person seeks their services. Tip-jar systems will be extremely important to enable a global finder's economy, as this is a low friction/commitment mechanism to transact finder activities. And the basis for healthy competition.

Why I believe this will drastically affect online search, is because A) the source of the searching will shift from person to finder, B) many of these kinds of searches are very vertical rather than your standard Google search, and C) the scalability of a given search can be massive if a finder is leveraging it to scale to many people at the same time. Thus, some heavy-weight finders could have large impacts, skewing search advertising in a way we haven't seen before. Even what we know as a Google search today, could be finder-ized. Type in a description of what you are looking for, let someone else wade through the Internet to zero in on it, for a tip. The results are emailed back to you. Would you tip $0.25 not to spend half an hour yourself?

To be sure, there are obviously many issues to sort out with regard to using finders: privacy, data security, cross-border business, potential skewing via kick-backs, etc. I have a number of creative solutions in mind myself. But, I'll leave that for another time...

What this means to existing major online players such as Yahoo!, Google, Amazon eBay, Apple et al, is that whichever implements effective intermediation ecosystems could monumentally tip the balance of power and market share in their favors. All in a current market place where the players go head-to-head with ever decreasing differentiation. But it also lays the road work for a major disruption from the startup world, to use a much more effective Finder's Economy based play to displace the incumbents. The big company bone-yard is littered with those that don't recognize and embrace new trends quickly.

Disclosure: No positions

Source: Finder's Economy: The Next Big Thing Online