If you’re not paying for it, you’re the product
Allow me to introduce myself. I’m “the product” on your free service. I’ve signed up for one of a few reasons and I thought I’d share a little insight into how I use services that are free and why you’re potentially sailing a fine line between keeping me and losing me to a rival.
I’m probably “the product” on your service because:
- My friends or work colleagues use your service and I “need” to be on there too
- I actually like the idea of your service and can make use of it – for example Twitter
- I’m curious as to what exactly what you’re offering so I’m taking your service for a spin, I may or may not be back after kicking the proverbial tyres
Unlike many, I don’t really have an issue with being “the product” in your service. I see it as a trade, I’m getting to use your service and you think you can provide some sort of value to me that you will ultimately be able to sell to someone else.
It may be you think you’re able to place an advert that my eyeballs simply can’t resist being drawn to because it’s relevant to what your algorithm thinks my interests are or because one of my friends said that because they enjoyed seeing Barbie Vs Godzilla I might too or that because I live near a coffee shop, I need reminding to drink coffee.
It may be that you’re giving me something free because later you hope I’ve become reliant on your product and like a media junkie, I will want more and I’ll be unable to resist in-app buying to customise or extend my experience while remaining “the product”.
Sadly for the ad-based site that uses me as “the product”, banner blindness and ad blockers are commonplace and all that data you’re gathering about my latest coffee, endomondo run or that my friend Rich enjoyed an olive based salad (even though I myself don’t like them) might not be as useful as you think.
There might be any number of things you think you can do once you’ve coaxed me into your world with your zero financial commitment sign up but chances are I’m going to be like many millions of other internet users and be drain on your resources all the while providing you with data you think it probably useful but in reality you don’t know what to do with the fact that I like kittens falling over, ultra-running, pizza and twee indie pop music other than try and serve me a “targeted” banner ad.
I’ve been following app.net recently and their effort to make a system similar to Twitter but one that’s not trying to leverage users as products. They’re focusing on charging a fee in order to avoid the reliance on shoddy promo tweets or ad placement.
I’m still undecided on how well it’s going to work out to be honest because frankly as “the product” I’ve been online that long now that I’m able to block out ads and to a large extent actually become indifferent to how some companies behave (Yes, yes, I know I should care more) because I know just around the corner, the next Facebook is brewing, the next Twitter might gain traction and it only takes one slip and a few people from each network of friends to jump ship and you’re slipping down a slope where there’s no recovery.
That being said, I actually don’t mind paying for something that’s useful. There are so many free sites that seem to fall back on the ad supported model without ever even trying to offer an ad free service for a fee. I’d love to know a little more about why. Is it just lazy? Does offering an ad free service just sound like a good idea in theory?
So, as “the product”, I say go nuts, collect what I give you through my posts, updates, tweets and checkins. Collect the interactions with my friends but if you’re ultimately relying on me exchanging free use of your service for clicking on banner adverts you’re probably going to be disappointed. I know others do click on adverts and it rakes in good money at the moment but ultimately, those people clicking now will become as banner blind as me.