Wal-Mart is known for its retailing prowess in the real world but its online efforts have been mixed. Anyone else remember when Wal-Mart's 88 cent MP3s were going to take down iTunes? It sometimes seemed like the folks in Bentonville didn't have a great appreciation for the online world. And as more electronic commerce becomes social commerce (via Facebook and other social sites), Wal-Mart could fall even further behind the Amazon.com's of the world in Internet selling.
So maybe it's no surprise that Wal-Mart is paying $300 million for a social media company called Kosmix which was started by two expert e-commerce guys, Venky Harinarayan and Anand Rajaraman, who sold their first company, Junglee, to Amazon.
Kosmix runs a couple of sites including one to find tweets about real time events in real time, called Tweatbeat, and medical information site Righthealth. The main Kosmix site creates topical web pages using all sorts of feeds, including other web sites, tweets, news and blog articles, videos and any other online stuff it finds. In theory, it's is joining together socially relevant information and selling opportunities. Now the company is being turned into some sort of Silicon Valley-based skunk works for Wal-Mart's social online strategies.
David Dorf, a technology strategist at Oracle, sees social data on the web as an increasing source of referrals for ecommerce, with Kosmix potentially at the intersection of the two.
The Kosmix guys themselves explained some of what they'll be up to on their blog:
We are at an inflection point in the development of ecommerce. The first generation of ecommerce was about bringing the store to the web. The next generation will be about building integrated experiences that leverage the store, the web, and mobile, with social identity being the glue that binds the experience. Walmart’s enormous global reach and incredible scale of operations — from the United States and Europe to growing markets like China and India — is unprecedented. @WalmartLabs, which combines Walmart’s scale with Kosmix’s social genome platform, is in a unique position to invent and build this future.