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The Future of Advertising and Privacy February 25, 2012

Posted by Peter Varhol in Publishing, Technology and Culture.

I’ve always hated dependence on advertising revenue.  When I was in publishing, that’s how we made our money, and I always thought it to be a cheap and fickle revenue stream.  I am, however, smart enough to know that I didn’t have any actionable ideas to improve upon it.  Publishers in effect leased out their mailing lists to companies that wanted people on those lists to buy their products.

In short, the mailing list was the publisher’s product – our names and addresses, specifically.  Early on (Byte, PC World), the volume of advertising was based entirely on numbers – hundreds of thousands, or even millions, who subscribed to these publications.  We didn’t know very much about them, but advertisers liked the numbers.

Somewhere in the latter part of the 1990s, advertisers became more discerning.  It wasn’t enough to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to have the subscribers view a succession of full-page ads.  We needed to know if they had the potential to consider purchasing our product or service.

Now we have Facebook.  The goal of Facebook is “frictionless sharing”, meaning that every single activity of our lives is available for sharing online.  Yes, everything we do.  In fact, Zuckerberg once famously claimed that if we didn’t want some information about us public, we must be engaged in something inappropriate.

Robert Scoble loves Facebook and the concept of frictionless sharing, but he acknowledges that there is a “freaky line”, as he calls it.  The freaky line is the point at which we get freaked out by what we expose to others.

He notes that Facebook routinely crosses the line, possibly to determine just where it is for many of us at that particular moment, so that it can gauge just how much information it can routinely share about its users.  For some reason, despite the mountains of criticism, users just keep coming back to Facebook.

I have a few takeaways from the ongoing debate about publishing, social media and privacy.

  1. Nothing will ever completely replace advertising as a media business model.  A few people will pay enough for certain types of content to be able to have a niche business, but that’s about it.
  2. Print publications were never free twenty years ago, and social media isn’t free today.  We’re paying for them with our information.
  3. We as individuals don’t own the data on ourselves that we provide or otherwise make available to social media sites.  The best we can hope for is to someday have visitation rights.
  4. This disclosure of information to advertisers is simply the next step in a long history of exchanging our information for value of some sort.  Nothing new here, folks.  With about 200,000 (give or take on any particular day) hits on my name on Google, I have long since abdicated any notion that I remain anonymous.

My problem with social media is not really any of this, per se.  I may have privacy in my own home (well, until I installed the IP camera last month), but I can’t count on no notice once I leave the house.

My problem is that I don’t really care what my friends and acquaintances are doing at any particular moment, what music they are listening to, what TV shows they are watching, or what bar they are at.  I simply don’t have the time to wonder about it, let alone track them through social media.  I marvel at people who do, and wonder what they are losing in the quest to have such knowledge.

I think the Toyota Venza commercial of last year hit the nail on the head here.



1. eddodds - February 25, 2012

Have you read David Siegel’s book “Pull”? http://thepowerofpull.com/pull/blog

Peter Varhol - February 25, 2012

No, thanks for the suggestion.

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