The Gray Shades of White-Labels

Companies love white-label services. It is the easiest way to offer customers more products without the need to develop them, but look as if they did. The idea behind white-label services is simple. You use a well established product under your own corporate identity, keep all the users, and based on the service agreement with the white-label vendor, can have greater control over the generated revenue streams. Nouncer is initially adopting a semi-while-label model in which developers can fully customize their product to the point where it is actually a unique offering. What it doesn’t offer is complete control over user identities and content segregation.

Users can sign-up for a Nouncer identity through any of the participating sites, and are free to take that identity with them. I see three main implementation trends for Nouncer. First is full access sites implementing appealing user experiences and competing over users by making the site prettier, more accessible, and easier to use. The second is partial content access sites, such as a Nouncer-based site for NHL fans where the site theme is dedicated to a single topic and the site offer access to pre-selected channels, or those created through it. The third which is the most common use of the Twitter API is gadgets and utilities, either standalone or integrated into existing offerings.

Nouncer is expected to support OpenID and potentially the upcoming OAuth protocol for API authentication and session management. With such open technologies, it should be fairly easy for developers to offer their own identity solutions (similar to LiveJournal accounts used as an OpenID sign-on on other sites) based on their existing user base. A site can simple add support for OpenID Provider calls, and its users will be able to use their existing identities to log into the Nouncer framework. Within Nouncer, users are expected to maintain a single account which they can associate to multiple external identities, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and of course OpenID.

The question is, how much white-label is good for the online community. Should Nouncer offer a service in which developers can block access to their service only to those using the developer own identity provider? Should content produced using one Nouncer-enabled site be blocked from others (content segregation)? These are interesting questions. The economics of running a business usually get a larger weight when making business model decisions about which service to offer, but there is a certain responsibility by those trying to create platforms to try and guide the vendors into more interoperability and openness.

Building a technology platform means it can be used in any business model (which doesn’t necessarily imply success). It is not likely that Hueniverse will offer its own Nouncer-based service (except for a closed developer site used for testing). The goal is to focus on the backend and support the community in building innovative solutions around it. It is hard to predict who will use Nouncer and what for, but the initial product will play a significant role in setting the mindset of how Nouncer-based services should interact with each other.