Born free, as free as a mindless consumer.
What is happening to the Internet? I thought the net was free. When I first got on line in 1995, the whole thing that attracted me to it was that it was pretty much all free. Really free. No one charged for anything. (except the dial up provider) It was real anarchy, real democracy. The mind reigned supreme. Humans with ideas shared them with the world for the sheer pleasure of sharing. Utopian dreams began to crystallise in my mind as I surfed ever on, finding more and more free information, art and ideas and countless friendly nicknames willing to help me find my newbie feet in this strange place. Sure at times I wondered how these kind folks were making a living, but I figured that whatever they did, their web time was after hours and the motivation was pure excitement at participating in the biggest revolution the world has ever seen.
The most common thing I heard back then from people who weren't on line at the time was "you can't make money on the net". How wrong they were eh? Although the net users didn't seem to care whether you could make money or not, the rest of the world, the corporate world particularly, was waiting for the dollar signs to flash before their eyes, before they would even glimpse at a browser, let alone explore the possibilities. Now the Internet is the most talked about phenomenon on the planet and all the big boys are jumping on line and throwing their www's on billboards and TV's everywhere!
Now you don't have to explore the possibilities any more, they are exploring you. You can't help but see opportunity out there. Think of a business, and you have an idea for a web business. Paint? Yeah, a cyber paint shop with virtual colour charts! Pets? A pet product and advice site! Condoms? Why not?! This is virtually an unlimited new market, like a virgin rainforest, rich with potential energy, and resources not even known to us yet. The question is, do you burn it and log it and then turn it into a huge cattle ranch, perhaps destroying rare and endangered opportunities, or do you open it to eco-tourism, making money, yet maintaining the essential beauty and wonder the medium possesses?
It seems the burning and logging road is being taken. After all, it is cyberspace, so you can regrow the original net in no time… or can you? Will the entire concept of the web be permanently altered by the marketing approach. Will new users fail to ever see or feel the same wonder and sense of personal intercommunication the first users felt? Will the corporate demographic-information-reaping consumer-farming turn us all into desperate money hungry fools, addicted to forking out billions on computers and software, whilst dreaming of cashing in big time on an idea that Microsoft or IBM already own?
Enter the freebie phenomenon. A freakish anomaly in the Internet's growth. Small operators, people half basking in the warm glow of anarchy, and half dipped in the thick syrup of monetary need or capitalist greed are seeking out free stuff and offering it for free on their free web sites. All in the hope of earning some free cash somewhere down a long stringy line of HTML that leads to a place where somewhere, someone is actually buying something with money. Well, the net used to be free didn't it? In the last few years, businesses from the real world have jumped on line and dragged with them the old school marketing techniques - which have now fused in a mutated mess with new age network marketing techniques and Internet hit-counting tallies, leading to this very complex web of sites promoting sites promoting sites linking to other sites promoting offers to promote products by promising free stuff, prizes, samples, hosting, even cold hard cash - PHEW!!
This is burning a few old businesses who are getting stung with 20,000 requests for their demo CD or wonder vitamin, booming for others, who are skimming off a bit of postage and packing charges and managing to hook in a few new customers. The ISP's are happy, because they are getting heaps of hits and placing their ads all over the shop. The click through ad sellers are happy, because they get paid anyway, and the little guys - the webmasters - well they get enough money to pay for a dust cover for their PC, and maybe a few jars of coffee to keep updating their links. Is this the way it is supposed to be? How long can this last? What are all these end products that are being given away? Do we need them? Does anybody care?
Take Sandy Kreutter and her web site www.thefreemall.net . She started her site a year ago. She builds it and maintains it herself. Six months of work programming and researching to get it up and running, and a few complete overhauls since.
"When I first started the site I spent about 8 hours a day building it and looking for legitimate free offers to add. I find most free offers in search engines and by going to different 'name brand products' web sites".
Like all the other free site owners, they are all scrambling for the same free offers. An office supply store offers a free pencil for subscribing to their catalogue, and you've got hot news in a thousand free sites all offering that pencil. This puts pressure on the webmasters to stay up to date, just to keep with the pack, and allows smart larger companies to devise strategies to utilise this situation to advantage.
"I definitely do not make a living at this." Insists Sandy. "I make approx US$150 a month from advertisers. I haven't been spending as much time lately as I used to with the site due to lack of time."
"I also added the 'get paid to shop' page, because I was seeing a lot of web sites selling this information, and it bothered me that people would have to pay for the info, when it's right out there on the web, so I started a list of companies that do that." ….Sandy's anarchic, socialist streak is beginning to show.
"I try to check the free offers I list once every 2 weeks and remove the expired ones." The task gets bigger and bigger. "I do send for free offers myself and have received lots of things as far as product samples etc..and I do enter some of the contests..no big win yet though for me."
"I started the site as a hobby and when I started getting advertisers I put more time into it. I have a 5 yr old daughter so I don't work full time outside the house. I would love to continue the site for as long as I can. It's time consuming to look for free offers and I wish I had more time to update my site more frequently."
Being a mum, Sandy doesn't want her child to grow up thinking mummy is a back that makes tapping sounds and has a funny glow coming from a squarish zone behind her.
"I try to only add offers that are completely free (no shipping charges) and it is important to me to keep my site family oriented."
So there you have it. US$130.00 a month. Is it worth it? Quite possibly. How long will it last? Who knows? How much are the people who pay her $130 making? Well, if you read the net scams chapter, you'll know that it must be a lot more than Sandy, otherwise she wouldn't be getting anything.
Meanwhile the freebie phenomenon continues. Newbies get on line, and send away excitedly for free t-shirts or rubber gloves. Where are all the anarchists? Well, they don't have any more free time. They are getting paid bucket loads to build the commercial sites now.
Where will this all lead us? It's up to you dear reader. You must choose the fate of your web. Jump in and cash in, or take your time and smell the flowers, whilst examining ways to make money on the net with value added activities. In anarchy, you vote with your actions. Help somebody, get people together, encourage healthy living, join some interest groups. The best outcome of the free site phenomenon is the number of charity and activist groups that are getting exposure by offering free on-line literature about their cause, to people who were really looking for key rings, mouse pads and beer coolers. Christians have always done this by handing out bibles etc. Now anyone who wants to affect change can do it and reach a fairly wide audience.
Birds don't pay rent on their nests or buy their food. Dogs can live in penthouses for free. What is wrong with us humans, eh? The planet is abundant with everything, and it's all tied up in stocks, bonds, real estate and super funds while everyone desperately chases a dollar. The best way to get stuff for free is to free your mind first. Sure if you want a new mouse pad, of course it's yours for the taking! That's what the Internet is all about! ;-)