Whitespace E: How to Make the Internet Useful for Everyone
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- Whitespace E -

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- How to Make the Internet Useful for Everyone -

by Lincoln Sayger

2031 wds.
First published on 10/11/02m

The internet today promises great things to everyone who uses it. Webmasters are promised quality visitors. People with more time than money are promised easy money just by visiting Web sites. Advertisers are promised a means to reach potential customers who want to see their offers. End users are promised access to information on virtually anything. The internet, or some component of it, promises all of these things, but does it deliver what it promises?

In most cases, it does not. Why?

Since the internet is such a versatile technology, why doesn't it deliver, without unweildy qualifiers and disclaimers, what its users (Advertisers, webmasters, potential earners, and end users) want? The reason is organization.

The internet is not properly organized to benefit these groups. Search engines cannot handle the research needs of their users because the task of finding, reviewing, classifying, ranking, and presenting search results simply requires too much human intervention, and that is the most costly Web resource.

Advertisers don't have the time or money to seek out the customers who want or care about their products, so they try to blanket the internet with booby traps, hoping a real customer will fall into one. Unfortunately, this plan is doubly ineffective. It doesn't reach those who are interested, and it annoys and repels those who aren't.

Those who are interested in making money on the internet are also not receiving what they are promised. Because of the setup on most of these systems, the users don't care about the advertisements, and so they don't do anything more than ignore the ads. Because of this, advertisers don't pay very well for the ads. In this domino effect, the outcome is that the users get paid a pittance for their time.

And then, there are those tortured webmasters. This group is one of the most abused groups on the internet. A person pours his or her time and energy into creating a high quality Web site, and no one visits. No one visits because no one can find it. No one can find it because the search engines are glutted with Web sites of low quality and poor character, designed to draw users in and try to sell them things in which they are not interested. These junk Web sites have abused every useful keyword, flooded every search service with their sites, and made it impossible for a webmaster whose site a user wants to see to be found.

This problem only grows worse as advertisers show less respect for the technology, the users, and the bandwidth of all involved.

Can this problem be avoided? I believe that it can.

Let us start with those end users. These unfortunate, frustrated people are just trying to do their jobs, their school work, their health research, their recreational searching, or their file searching. They can't get to what they want quickly and easily because they run into two kinds of advertisements. They encounter a banner ad on nearly every page. These, the user ignores. They also encounter, in almost every free search service, multiple junk Web sites for every one that might be close to what they want. Perhaps these users can pay for a monitored search service, and some do. Many, however, don't have the extra money to spend on something so unimportant (or they don't believe the pay-per searches will be any better).

What these users would like to see is a service that would save them time and help them to find the information they seek, but they can't, or won't, pay for it. It simply isn't something they want to buy.

Next, we should consider the untapped resource inherent in Web users who want to make money. The reason get-paid-to-surf programs don't work is that the users of these programs are there to MAKE money, not spend it. Advertisers who target those who are trying to make, not spend, money are trying a foolish sale. They would do better selling sand to the Arabs. The result, as previously mentioned, is that advertisers won't pay what the users' time is worth.

What these users would like to see is a program that pays them for their time and effort. Perhaps some of them only want to click "Next Site", but many of them are probably bored with this. They'd like to put their Web knowledge to use (getting paid) to finding specific sites.

Third, we must consider the webmasters. Webmasters whose Web sites contain useful information made their Web sites for a reason: that it could be seen by people who need that information. They don't want meaningless numbers on a counter. They want their Web site to be useful. More importantly, if that information is in any way related to a product or service, they, like the advertisers, would like the sites to be viewed by people interested in those products or services.

What these users would like to see is a service that would connect them with visitors who want their site rather than some random Web page. Almost every webmaster with a high quality, useful site would be willing to pay something, even if not very much, for such a service. Such a service would raise word-of-mouth advertising and increase repeat visits.

Finally, we will consider the group which has been mentioned in relation to every other group: the advertisers. The advertisers are important because they provide most of the money in the internet economy. To be more accurate, we should say that advertisers, more than any other group, waste their money on the internet. Waste? Waste. The shotgun method of advertising simply doesn't work for the majority of internet users. Banner ads are so prevalent that many Web users either turn off automatic image loading (so that they don't even see the ads) or they simply ignore anything 468 pixels by 60 pixels. Popups are so annoying that most users run "KillAd", "Pow!", or some similar program that destroys popups almost before they appear. So-called "targetted marketing" (BUCE)? Forget it. Internet users don't like junk email any more than home owners like telemarketing calls at 3 am. Those users who don't employ a program to screen/bounce junk mail (such as "MailWasher") spend their email time deleting the junk mail without reading it and with one important side effect. They curse the company that sent it. This is bad press, not good advertising. This group is wasting what it spends on the internet.

What these users would like to see is a service which will (I won't say target, because that term has been so much abused) connect them with users who might actually be interested in their products or services.

Having discussed the needs, let us discuss the solution.

A company, composed of Web gurus, writers (NOT ad writers), brick-and-mortar marketers, and advertising marketers starts a Web site. The employees of the company perform the following tasks.

The Web gurus set up a database structure to allow end-users to create accounts, A second database tracks the requests for research, and a third database to store advertiser information which will later be sent to users.

The advertising marketers contact advertisers and pitch the plan to them. These employees have no contact whatsoever with the rest of the company, except to inform the appropriate people that an advertiser has agreed to advertise with them. In this way, the advertisers don't gum up the works.

The writers take the copy provided by the advertisers and rewrite it. They can't be professional ad writers, because their job will be to remove hype, flashy but meaningless language, and deceptive claims from the ad copy. Internet users resent deception, and they want information, so the advertisements they receive should be informative rather than pseudo-persuasive. A persuasive ad will not get an intelligent user to buy something she or he doesn't want.

The brick-and-mortar marketers produce advertising for radio, television, and other non-internet methods of reaching customers. The reason is simple. This company doesn't want to be just another internet company promising the moon. This company wants to fill needs and get paid for filling those needs. Any advertising this company gets online should be satisfied customers telling their friends about the company. Word-of-mouth advertising is always the most effective advertising.

The end users hear about the company and find the following experience.

On arriving at the Web site, they create a user account. They are asked for some information which will only be used to help the company find the advertising that actually fits the user's desires. Their address, telephone number, and other personally identifiable information is not requested. An email address, however, is. Remember, that will be where the user will get the results. None of this information is provided to advertisers. Advertisers only get a report of how many users received their advertisements.

The user makes a research request. "I would like information about the densities of cobalt, coal, and marble." or "effects of hyperbaric pressure on healing" for example.

Users of the Web site may also use their accounts to answer questions in exchange for, in the end, money. So, a user with some extra time sees the request and goes to his or her favorite search engine or directory. He or she tracks down Web sites that answer the question or relate to the request. He or she then submits the URLs for these sites. At the end of the requesting user's suggested time period, or any time URLs are submitted for that request, an email is sent to the requesting user. The email contains the request, the URLs, and a few words from one or two of the sponsors. These are not necessarily advertisements. They may be informational paragraphs about the advertiser "D.C. Dime's was founded in 1987...", the advertiser's efforts in some charity, the advertiser's commitment to the local economy, or some other light information "The tallest tree ever recorded was...This tidbit brought to you by LB Tuscany Outfitters".

The requesting user visits the URLs and rates their relevance to his or her needs. The user may request more information or request that the request be closed. If a URL comes in after the user has closed the request, it may be stored and called up immediately when another user requests similar information.

The ratings are used to determine how much money the research provider will receive for his or her efforts. A research provider who consistently submits useful and timely lists of URLs will receive a significant portion of the advertising profits. They might also opt into receiving emails to let them know as soon as a research topic (perhaps a specific topic, so that they can specialize) is requested.

Webmasters who wish to have their Web sites also appear in the lists sent to requesting users can pay a fee and have their Web site linked with sets of keywords. The employees of the company will review these to make sure their users won't be receiving Web sites not related to their requests.

I believe a company like this would be wildly successful. It meets the desires of its clients. Advertisers reach consumers without making their potential customers angry. End-users get the informatrion they want without wasting time (especially useful for professional writers and others who must do research frequently), with no cost, and without wading through advertising that would never interest them. Webmasters get visitors, not empty hits. People with great amounts of time or intelligence get paid to provide URLs relating to various topics. The company itself makes money, as advertisers, pleased with consumer letters of thanks or consumer purchase increases, pay higher rates for this effective advertising and "good press". Eventually, the company might not need to spend anything at all on advertising its service. Word-of-mouth would provide all their new users.

Many companies make the mistake of asking "How can we make money doing X" and fail to make a profit. If they'd asked instead "How can we please our customers?", they'd have made a profit by selling a service. By being committed to the needs of its customers first, a company like this can have a substantial bottom line.

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