It’s perhaps fitting that the first book on social commerce is French.

Arguably, the first social commerce success story was French, Vente-Privée, the member-get-member powered online shopping club for private-sales launched in 2001 that has inspired a slew of clones, including Gilt in the US, and now turning over €620m.

Julien Chaumond‘s slim volume – Social Commerce: When E-Commerce Meets Today’s Web (alas for non-French readers, in
French only) - is a useful and astonishingly up-to-date overview of the social commerce space, defined in the book as “the intersection of social media and e-commerce” (author interview here (French)).

The book’s main thesis is that the social media mindset and the e-commerce mindset are very different, creating both challenges and opportunities for brands and retailers.  The trick is to combine the two, break down silos, and get your e-commerce people and social media people people to combine their smarts. Do this, and fantastic things – like Groupon, Polyvore and Blippy  - can happen.

The book doesn’t waste time on first-generation social features such as ratings, reviews, tell-a-friend and shared pick-lists, but jumps straight into where the social commerce action is now; group buying, social shopping communities, “purchase sharing”and social marketing.  Chaumond introduces these social commerce tools with a view to helping traditional brands and retailers understand and see the opportunity.

An interesting departure from a grand tour of the usual suspects, and some start-up picks for future stars (shwowp) is Chaumond’s focus on the semantic web, from the simplest incarnation today as the ubiquitous Facebook Like button – a sentiment infused hyperlink powered by the Open Graph Protocol – to a future where the smart web understands (shopping) data through annotations and tags and can use to offer new services that adds social intelligence into online shopping.

The book concludes saying that whilst social commerce is a nascent subject, rapidly mutating through early-stages of development, 4 key questions will define the path of it’s growth;

  1. Will merchants (and their customers) allow third party applications to access customer data via APIs and build social services using that data?
  2. What are the limits of sharing: How much do people really want to share their purchase data?
  3. What new transaction models will emerge (realtime Dutch auctions (Sokoz), entertainment shopping (Swoopo), dynamic pricing (Amazon), subscriptions (Raz*War, Manpacks)?
  4. Will the Web evolve to become more centralized and stable (allowing scalable social commerce to be built on it) or retain it distributed and fluid structure (fancy building social commerce app for MySpace anyone?)?

If the Facebook Like button on the front cover of Social Commerce: Quand L’e-commerce Rencontre Le Web D’Aujourd’hui by Julien Chaumond was clickable, we’d click it.