Humpty Dumpty made a great fall and now several people
seem to think that they can fix the problem by trying to
charge a price for the bits and pieces. They dont understand
that they should simply count their losses (or their unfair
gains if they have been paid for bad advice, poor management
or questionable strategies and tools) and get out of the way.
They cant put Humpty together again. What we need is some
fresh thinking, as well as a better understanding of what the
net is and how it works.
Is it easy to make a decent income using the internet?
Not as easy as many imagined or preached. But not more
difficult than in any other sort of enterprise. Then why are
there so many failures and disappointments? Because too many
people are looking for profit in the wrong places or in the
wrong way. Common sense, as it applies to any business or any
human enterprise, seems to be forgotten in the case of the
internet (as well as in several areas of telecommunications
and information technology).
One of the most ridiculous fads is the meaningless
statement that there can no longer be a free
internet. Its been rampant for a year or two, its
being repeated with arrogant complacency. Mostly by the
people who caused misguided investments and, in their
effort to shake off the blame for the resulting losses and
failures, are busy trying to do more of the same.
What do they mean by free internet? Thats
very fudgy. Because they dont know what they are talking
about or because they are deliberately confusing the issue.
Unless the basic concept is made clear all of the discussions
on this subject can only result in more mistakes and more
failures (or in more short-term profiteering that may make
money for a few, and for a short time, while warping the
market as a whole).
Of course free in English has different meanings and
even in other languages there is some confusion. Thats a
serious problem because by the end of the free
internet several people mean (though they seldom admit
it openly) the end of internet freedom. It may be
appropriate to discuss that separately. For the sake of this
article, lets stay with the money issue: must we pay for
everything on the internet or should it be for
free? Even so, it isnt clear.
Depending on how we define the concept, we can say that
the internet has never been free of cost or we can say that
it is free and that it must, and will, continue to be.
If we understand that cost doesnt
necessarily mean money, its pretty obvious that
hardly anything is ever totally free. Even things
that dont have a price tag rarely fall into our laps (unless
they are worthless or undesirable, or have strings
attached). They require commitment and dedication
time, effort and active involvement.
For thirty years the structure of the internet has been
open, with free access by anyone who can have a connection
and can afford the tools. But services need to be provided.
To be online one must give something technical
and human resources, content and values. In any case, it
takes time and active involvement. Even those things that
arent paid for in money arent for free.
From this point of view there has never been any
free internet and its unlikely that three will
ever be. So we could just stop here and forget the whole issue.
But if cost means money and price tags... its pretty
clear that the basic nature of the internet is free. Its
based on free interchange. We dont pay for the most valuable
things: dialogue, information, interactivity, human
relationships. Thats the way the net was born, in that way
its continuing to grow
and there is no reason why it should change its nature. There is no
indication that it could turn into something where people must pay
for everything. In that unlikely case it wouldnt be the
internet, but something else (probably a shabby and
inefficient imitation of some mainstream media) and we would
be left with two alternatives. To mourn on its grave or to
resuscitate it in some other way.
Is that going to happen? I dont think so. Daily
experience confirms that (in spite of the overload and the
junk) the free internet is growing and improving
all the time while on the commercial side (with
a few pleasant exceptions) things are going from bad to worse.
The lifeblood of the net is people who want to exchange
ideas, opinions, information as well as emotion and
feelings. Any attempt to choke the freedom of human exchange
and replace it with a money-based system isnt just wrong and
unfair. Its inherently stupid.
The charge for everything crusade is likely
to fail. And even if it had a partial victory most of its
supporters would be defeated. The sticky traps where they
hope to grab dollars or euros would be wiped out, or
swallowed, by a few monstrous worldwide concentrations. While
its pretty obvious that in all fields (including traditional
media and business) there is a strong need for things to move
in the opposite direction and for more freedom and open
There is a loud and silly crowd climbing up Humptys
wall. Let them be and lets do our best to stay away from
the fallout. There are other, and much more promising, ways
to make money. Lets see how.
First of all, we must get rid of a myth. Too many people
(and companies) believe that money must be made inside the
internet for the investment to be worthwhile. Thats true
only in a few cases (enterprises selling primarily internet
services if they have something really valuable to sell).
For the vast majority of companies the source of income and
profit if somewhere outside the net. The internet is not a
source of income per se, but can be a tool to add value to
all sorts of goods and services. Not only, or necessarily, in
the sales department. Think of logistics, distribution,
service, assistance, customer care...
Cutting costs can be one of the benefits, but in most
cases that is not the first priority. Think first of quality
and service some effective improvement in the income-cost
ratio is likely to follow.
Dont make promises you cant keep, dont invest money up
front before you know where you are going. Start with
something small and manageable, grow gradually, experiment
along the way, learn at every step. Make what is appropriate
freely and easily accessible (but dont burden yourself and
you customers with content that isnt specifically relevant).
Make the path easy, clear and comfortable to get to
whatever it is that people may want to buy but dont try to
force them to the sales counter, to cross their path or to
divert their attention, while they are browsing or looking
for information. Gain their confidence by providing free and
easy access to as much information as you can and by caring
for relationships and service.
In this way there is little to lose (if something doesnt
work its easy to get out as long as its tested in
practice before it gets too big). And there is a lot to be
gained. Including lessons that one can learn in the internet
and apply more widely somewhere else.
Elementary? Not quite. Its more easily said than done.
It takes patience and commitment. But its worth the effort.
The starting point is to dump the bad strategies (including
the charge for everything syndrome) and dig
common sense out of whatever old cupboard in which its
buried under a pile of waste and nonsense. Above all, always
remember that the net isnt machines, networks,
connections, devices or glitch. Its people.