Thursday, January 18, 2007

Killer Bees, Global Warming and Spam 2.0

"Let's face it. We're not changing the world. We're building a product that helps people buy more crap -- and watch porn." - Seagate CEO Bill Watkins

These days, as I have noted previously, we are facing a global crisis regarding the viability of the Internet infrastructure. Zombie networks threaten to overwhelm not only mail servers but actually destroy the connectivity of companies, TLDs, even countries. The bad guys are winning, in short.

But it occurs to me that this, like Killer Bees and Global Warming, the net zombie crisis is the result of the incredible optimism of mankind when it comes to technology. We love to adopt (well, ok, buy) new gizmos that make our lives easier, more fun, warmer, faster and so on.

The problem is the people who invent stuff are quickly over-run by the people who sell stuff, and the people who want to tell you to buy stuff, and we are off to the races.

Killer Bees were the result of African bees being bred with South American Honey Bees to better their honey output. Whoops, the result became meaner, too.

Global warming is, in part (how much is up for debate, admittedly) being contributed to by coal-fired smoke-belching electrical plants, airplanes, cars and trucks, wood-burning stoves, and Argentinean cows farting too much. All that technology that sprang from the industrial revolution has had a deleterious effect on the global environmental infrastructure. We never paused to consider the consequences of what would happen if everyone had a car, a refrigerator, and an air conditioner. Such is human nature.

So too with spam. The original email network was set up so any server would happily, collaboratively mail email to a receiving machine; if your local server was down, no problem, you’d use your neighbour’s outbound mail server, without even asking permission. That quickly became a problem when people abused the communal spirit.

When the World Wide Web came into being in the early 90s, I dragged people into my office and pointed at a screen with a couple of molecules and some text surrounding them. ‘Do you see? This is going to bring the Internet to your Mom’ I exclaimed happily. Well, your Mom is now on the net, and she might even be featured on a MILF site.

So what of Web 2.0? The user-published interactive everyone-has-an-opinion blogo-podo-vodosphere?

I’m having a bit of a debate with the CEO of the company I work for, Return Path’s Matt Blumberg. He thinks that RSS, Pod-and-video-casting are the great new untapped vista of advertising channels. Admittedly, his statements are way more nuanced than that.

I agree that advertisers will try, but I have my doubts if consumers will buy. When I challenged Matt on this, his main answer was relating the notion of consumer distaste of ads being thrust in the virgin territory of Web 2.0 back to the example of the web and email in 1995 when they first became channels of ad distribution, and there was much gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes by end-users.

Quite right, but the naysayers at the time were the real early-adopters of the net – the grey beards. The mass incursion of neophyte users that followed were those who didn’t know a world without any ads related to net content, and they accepted it all as status quo.

To my eye, what we have now is a completely different scenario where consumers are burnt out and fed up with spam, adware, pop-ups, skyscrapers, pop-unders et alia intruding into the end-user experience.

I believe the Web 2.0 technologies will demand more subtlety when it comes to their use as an advertising medium if they are to be successful mediums.

A great example of this are the vodcasts HBO has done for their series Deadwood and Rome, with behind the scenes commentary, cast interviews and the like – basically building huge pop for the shows on a pre-release schedule which then overlaps with the first few weeks’ broadcasts.

RSS – well, that’s a tough nut to crack for advertisers (let me get this out there right away and say I know how the publishing business works; newspapers provide content so you will at the ads, for example, and completely agree with the notion that folks should have to pay to enjoy content, one way or another either by subscription or my advertising underwriting). Problem is, an RSS reader makes it pretty darned explicit what the various articles are and if something looks like an ad, it is likely to be ignored.

So, is Web 2.0 going to be killer app or killer bee? Only time will tell, but I’m thinking mostly the former instead of the latter, and there will be a revolution in the ranks if advertisers take a hammer-down approach to trying to make use of these channels.

No comments: