Friday, July 20, 2007

Recruitment in Ireland, Competition vs. Cooperation, and Facebook

In addition to working on GoCrossCampus this summer, I'm living in Ireland with a day job at a specialist recruitment and consulting agency called Osborne Recruitment. I'm working as a consultant, creating new marketing and digital strategy solutions for the company, and also learning quite a bit about the recruitment industry in Dublin. The Irish recruitment industry is a interesting beast. Because the Irish economy has been rapidly expanding the past 10-15 years, an enormous number of Irish businesses are increasing their workforces and expanding their staff needs. Thus, there is a constant, ubiquitous need for the service of finding the right candidate (potential employee) for the right client (potential employer). In Dublin alone, there are literally hundreds of recruitment agencies working to attract qualified workers and place them in specific roles offered by employers. The thing is, it's an extremely competitive and quite saturated market, with almost no barrier to entry. Irish recruitment agencies come in all shapes and sizes, from multi-national behemoths to tiny basement-office operations. All are competing for what is essentially the same candidate market: Ireland has almost zero cyclical unemployment (and indeed, most recruitment services in Ireland deal purely in the realm of frictional unemployment), and the workforce has predictable immigration/emigration trends.

So what does this have to do with the web? Everything. While traditional brick-and-mortar recruit agencies abound in Dublin, there are only a few core online job posting sites that have worked to capture the market. High-traffic job portals like,, and have all done well to create lucrative online businesses, attracting high candidate traffic and listing thousands of open job vacancies. These job portals are so successful because they capture two markets in one: first, they serve as an easy, low-cost way for employers to post job openings and attract candidates, circumventing the need for a traditional recruitment agency. However, these sites also serve as a recruitment agency's recruitment agency, offering a great job-advertising opportunity for recruiters to post their listings and attract high candidate traffic. This dual-market business model of job-post portals is an interesting phenomenon -- in Ireland, the whole idea of competition in the online sphere of the recruitment industry is breaking down, the line between competitor and partner becoming blurred. Online job portals serve as both a business opponent and a business cohort for physical, consultant-centric recruitment agencies. But while traditional recruiters constantly struggle against their fellow agencies to carve out higher margins, job portals are laughing all the way to the bank, capturing ad revenues from every recruitment agency in Dublin who posts on their site.

What does this mean for the nature of traditional competition in the increasingly online-focused world of recruitment? Traditional print/radio/TV advertising is still the bread and butter of Irish recruiters, but as more and more candidates are finding all they need on the web, recruiter focus is shifting along with the trends. Will brick-and-mortar recruitment agencies become an antiquated feature of Ireland's past, replaced by the all-encompassing and ever-increasing services of online job-portals? Not yet, at least as long as Irish employers stick to using the tried-and-true recruitment services of physical agencies they know and understand. (For example, Osborne has a wealth of clients who would never even think about going elsewhere.) But this is a good analogy for other web-connected industries to take to heart. While the 1990's saw many e-businesses competing directly against brick-and-mortars as equals (and failing), the 2000's have seen an extra dimension added to the playing field, with countless online businesses out-innovating traditional companies by both cooperating and competing with them simultaneously.

In this increasingly interconnected web-world, new online ventures aren't looking to strike out on their own in direct competition with preexistng businesses. No more will the "go it alone" mentality fly on the internet. Instead, startups are increasingly looking for ways to synergize their services with technologies, conventions, and mindsets already on the web, grappling for as much inter-connectivity they can get their hands on. Just take a look at the exponential success of Facebook apps -- developers across the web are building applications that integrate into Facebook's vast social media dominion, often plugging their own site's services directly into the Facebook platform. Facebook gets increased functionality and immersiveness from the new app, and the developer gets an awesome new avenue for connecting to users. Talk about a win-win.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Taking MMOG to New Markets

If you haven't checked out Club Penguin yet, do it. It's worth dealing with the registration feature, which is (rightly) ultra-skeptical of anyone over fourteen attempting to sign up. In case you really don't want to bother, there is a great Wikipedia article here.

In case it's not immediately obvious, Club Penguin is the hottest site for kids aged 8 to 14. It's a great case study for a company marketing a game to a demographic that hasn't touched such things before. In Club Penguin's case, the effect is multiplied by the fact that not only have these individuals never played games, but their demographic has never played these sorts of games for a variety of reasons. Yet they seem to be doing a solid job of it. I'm going to assume that they foresaw the plethora of ultra-popular penguin-themed movies.

Further, Club Penguin illustrates a form of demographic arbitrage which is becoming increasingly common in the hardware industry. Simply put, it's a lot easier to get people who are doing something for the first time to adopt your way of doing it rather than win converts from another platform. The best example of this out there of this is the conflict between Linux and Microsoft over the One Laptop per Child program, which is planning to ship 5 to 10 million units this year, mostly to individuals who have never previously owned a computer. The OS shipped on those laptops, in all likelihood, will be the favored OS for those individuals for years to come.

In this case, the gameplay style and feeling of Club Penguin will be imprinted on these kids for years to come. I've been a strategy gamer for years, probably due to the fact that I spent the entirety of fourth grade playing SimCity.

Club Penguin is simply capturing a market by lowering the age at which people start playing multiplayer games. In my opinion, it was bound to happen, since the lower side of the 8-14 market has only been served by the "educational games" sector. This implies that gaming is entirely a purchase decision made for them by parents and educators. If a 10 year old girl can decide to wear makeup on her own, why can't she bug her parents to pay for a MMOG?

- Brad