My first involvement with the online sector was back in the early 1980’s when I was a member of a small team which managed the Ausinet (Australian Information Network) service, a National Library of Australia initiative.
Like the USA-based Dialog and Orbit services, it was an online resource which provided access to information resources you could not readily place your hands on in those days. Information professionals used it as a research tool.
It was a TRUSTED source as information / content providers were all large companies such as the National Library of Australia, the Australian Stock Exchange, and publishers such as John Fairfax.
Tech savvy entrepreneurs saw the benefits of online access to information and so by the mid 80’s we started seeing the emergence of BBS’s (Bulletin Board Services). Several of these became huge, including Prodigy, Compuserve and AOL.
Like their predecessors, they were a TRUSTED source of information as many of their content providers were large organizations.
The same cannot be said about the Internet as we know it today. In fact,
The Internet is full of LIES
We all encounter lies on the Internet almost daily and, as a result, have conditioned ourselves to proceed with caution in whatever we do online. That was something you did not have to worry about 20 years ago.
Consider the following:
- Scams have proliferated on the Internet – there have always been scammers out there as pointed out by James Thornton in The Postal Industry In Danger. However, what is happening and / or took place in the direct mail industry is nothing compared to what is happening on the Internet.
- Many marketers are deceptive – they use statements of earnings which are totally fabricated, fake websites and Facebook pages, Flogs (fake news blogs), etc to talk up products which simply do not deliver what they claim.
- Personal profiles / identities are constantly being stolen – and used for purposes which the official owner would never do in a million years.
- Credit card theft – if you know where to look, you can actually buy stolen credit card data online.
- False postings – on Twitter and Facebook, some designed as a joke, others specifically geared to create mischief.
- Page 1 listings in a search result are often totally useless – there because of SEO practices rather than quality of content. Many people make their decisions based on these high rankings and therefore can easily get steered down the wrong path. (Fortunately, Google is addressing this.)
- FREE – the most powerful of all sales tools is too often used to drag you in and get you spending more than you should be as outlined in The Price of FREE.
The list goes on and on to the point where all anyone can say is that The Internet is a Liar
The big difference is that word “FREE”
The great thing about the Internet’s is that it provides a platform for anyone to become a publisher – and that is something we should never ever seek to change. In fact, it needs to be encouraged even more.
However, because much of what you see is free, there is a perception by many that piracy (stealing) is acceptable and therefore it is easy for someone to present themselves as an authority when in fact they aren’t. Deception!!!!
That’s only part of the problem as a lot of what you see on the Internet is not maintained properly as you can only keep generating unique and quality content if you have a way in which to monetize it, an area which very few self publishers have managed to master effectively.
Because you are getting something for free, that does not mean it is current or accurate!
Pay for service or some other process which facilitates monetizing is the only sustainable long term business model in any game as pointed out in The Next Big Thing Won’t Be Social Media.
Major online services during the 80’s and 90’s all worked on a paid subscription basis. It may have only been a small fee for access, but that was enough to provide a business base which allowed them to focus on delivering quality content which could be trusted.
Today’s advertising-based business model can produce quality content. However, when the motivation is to get eyeballs (in order to attract advertisers), standards can and do slip occasionally.
We could trust the content we found on the online services 20 years ago as they earned subscription fees which were subsequently used to do deals with “quality” content providers.
Today, those deals are driven by a less reliable advertising model – less reliable as more and more advertisers are turning to “pay for performance” models and / or cheaper options such as Facebook.
The best business model still remains the one used by publishers such as The Economist – i.e. subscriptions, advertising, and over the counter sales. This balanced business model allows them to maintain their focus on QUALITY editorial. No compromises, beat ups or short term thinking at all in order to attract advertisers.
Unfortunately, not many publishers have managed to create an equivalent balance and so we can expect to see even more big shake-ups in the publishing industry – and content quality could be the big loser.
There is a solution…
Initiatives like the USA Government’s SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) are not a solution – it cannot be enforced globally which is what is needed in any initiative which tries to address an area like this. [Google’s move towards “author authentication” is a far more effective long term solution in addressing piracy.]
The FTC’s (Federal Trade Commission) recent pursuit of fraudulent marketers needs to be commended. If nothing else, it may stop some from pursuing similar practices and that can only be good for consumers. However, some of those fraudulent marketers will simply move to other countries and so once again, it’s not a long term fix.
Fundamentally, governments are the WRONG people to address the “trustworthiness” of information on the Internet on a long term basis.
The onus – and in fact the ONLY sustainable solution – has to be on private firms which come up with sustainable business models which do not utilize any deceptive sales techniques to deliver value.
The basis is already in place. For example…
- Apple have produced the perfect business model for music with iTunes.
- Amazon have re-invented publishing with their online store (and the Kindle) … and used this as a base to give consumers surety of supply in many other product categories as well.
What is needed is more organizations like these establishing commercial models where trust, reliability and continuity are assured.
“Smart” consumers will pay. In fact, if they know like and trust you, they will pay a premium any day of the week to deal with you rather than an unknown entity.
There will never be a total clean up of the lies on the Internet, but at least consumers who appreciate that you get what you pay for will have many more “trusted” options they can pursue.