There are many ways to understand online ecosystems. The simplest way to think about them is to think of a virtual neighborhood, with virtual traffic driving up and down the streets, stopping at virtual stores and virtual houses to find something of value or interest. If we could map this neighborhood, and the traffic patterns, you'd have a map of the online ecosystem.
In one sense it is a map of the attention paid to ecosystem participants - a visual representation of the attention economy in real-time.
That said, there are various ways to classify an online ecosystem. In our work, we find the following types of ecosystems.
The ecosystem map(s) of a specific industry showing the relative rankings of the industry leaders and their relationships to one another and their value-chain participants. We are able to identify weakness and strengths in the strategies of the companies identified in our maps as they are reflected in their online positioning.
The ecosystem map(s) of a specific brand and its online positioning against its competitors. We measure the daily ups and downs in brand vitality and plot trends over time.
The ecosystem map(s) of the marketspace most related to a specific advertising campaign. A good ecosystem map will help you identify the optimal points of entry for a campaign based on relevance, reach, and effectiveness. This will stop wasting your advertising spend because now you can actually see which sites are true hubs and stop spending money on sites which don't perform.
The ecosystem map(s) of a value-chain in your industry - either yours or your competitors. We can reveal the nature of competition in product design networks, supply chains, and distribution networks. A critical component in competitor analysis, our process ecosystem maps can also be used to identify opportunities for partnerships and alliances with the right set of vendors.
The ecosystem map(s) of collaborators and idea generators in a given marketspace. These include companies, organizations, collaboratives, and often individuals -- the thought-leaders who drive emerging practices in our rapidly changing world.
News & Media Ecosystems
The ecosystem map(s) of how news and ideas are disseminated in specific areas - from sports to politics to business. We can show you the news and buzz in your industry or topic.
Visualizing the news/media ecosystem is a critical intelligence gathering tool for PR and news executives and journalists as well. Observe how a "PR" campaign is propagated through the web. Identify sites bashing your client. Determine if the sites are worth worrying about or not.
The ecosystem map(s) of your competitors and their partners. Find out their strengths and weaknesses and take advantage of this knowledge. You can actually build a firewall to protect you from the competition.
The ecosystem map(s) of your most important customers and prospects. A critical component for B2B strategy and tactics. By understanding your customers' ecosystems you'll be in a position to hold your own.
The ecosystem map(s) for your targeted consumer demographics, from the boomers to kids, from tech-nerds to bankers, and most importantly, the women's marketspace. Catch the right fish.
The ecosystem map(s) for your new product. You may spot critical weaknesses in your strategy before you burn your "launch-money."
The ecosystem map(s) of our political machinery - Democrats, Republicans, and special interest groups. Blogosphere included.
A way to look at the edge of your industry to keep track of the innovators and disruptors. Also a great way to identify latent needs of customers (Kano model, etc.)
Ecosystems which may not always deliver tangible business value, but they serve an important function: building relationships and communities of like-minded or purpose-driven participants.
We're still coming up with ways to define online ecosystems. Got any suggestions?