Facebook Meets Amway

Want to do more with your Facebook profile than just pimp yourself? Push vendors' goods and make some extra scratch.

The explosion in popularity around social networks has laid the foundation for entrepreneurs looking to cash in on the Web destinations that are luring millions of users.

bSocial Networks is one of those opportunists. The Conifer, Colo.-based startup is using Facebook, which attracts about 68 million users, to help consumers and small businesses and sell their wares online.

bSocial Co-founder and Co-President Sue Spielman said bSocial's Market Lodge 2.0 software allows social network users to build their own market places within their profiles.

Once created, Market Lodge users can add more than 1,200 products from the more than 70 vendors participating in the program and invite friends to make online purchases from their storefronts based on their recommendations.

In a system not unlike Amway, Market Lodge will pay Facebook members a 10 percent commission on sales made from their recommendations. Social e-commerce site Fanista employs a similar model for selling CDs and DVDs.

"We've created a model where someone can literally within less than five minutes create a totally functional e-commerce store that has products in it according to what their interests and hobbies are," Spielman told eWEEK.

In reality, bSocial is creating another venue for e-commerce, not unlike what eBay and Craigslist have done. However, while those e-commerce giants help anonymous sellers offload goods to equally anonymous buyers, Market Lodge lets buyers purchase goods from storefronts set up on a social network through users they know.

VARs are finding value in Facebook. Click here to read more.

In addition to this "social commerce" approach, another key difference between Market Lodge and other e-commerce sites is that the seller of the product does not have to fulfill the order. Back-end fulfillment such as shipping, payment processing and customer services are handled by the Market Lodge vendor and bSocial.

All Market Lodge transactions are made through a PayPal account. Market Lodge users are paid commissions from completed sales through direct deposit account on PayPal.

Vendors join the program free. Market Lodge is designed to help small- to medium-sized businesses boost their online presence, but Spielman said that as Market Lodge grows within social networks, she expects Fortune 500 companies to leverage Market Lodge via a multi-channel retail strategy.

Where's Facebook's Cut?

bSocial isn't yet offering Facebook a cut of the revenues, but Spielman didn't rule it out for the future because social sites will begin to see Market Lodge as an alternative revenue stream to those generated by online advertising.

bSocial launched Market Lodge first on Facebook March 3 because its APIs were in better shape than OpenSocial's APIs, which Spielman said didn't work when her developers tested them last year. However, she made it clear that bSocial will launch Market Lodge on other social networks to make it as viral as possible.

Like any of the 16,000-plus Facebook applications created to date, Market Lodge is a widget, albeit a departure from sheep throwing, food fights and other games designed to gain eyeballs for creating an advertising revenue stream.

Spielman said these applications are redundant and have a short life even if they are very viral. The more variety of storefronts set up in site profiles, the better the opportunity to lure members to use them.

Facebook is also a logical launch partner for Market Lodge because it is perceived as transaction friendly by some experts who track the market. This could pave the way for additional enterprise opportunities.

At the Graphing Social Patterns West show in San Diego earlier this month, several venture capitalists picked Facebook as the logical place for users to begin selling goods because of its ease of use and presentation as a "transaction-oriented platform."

Those interested in trying Market Lodge can find it here and on Facebook here.