The Spirit of the ‘Net, Revised

Over Twitter today, one of the people I follow tweeted about an article titled the 10 Golden Rules of the Internet. This article was written by Aliza Sherman, the owner of the first female Internet company, Cybergrrl Inc. She certainly has made her bones when it comes to the internet and technology. But, to be honest, the first rule of her Golden 10 set my teeth on edge.

1. Respect the Spirit of the ‘Net. Since 1995, I’ve been writing about and talking about what I call the “Spirit of the ‘Net.” The Internet was not meant for marketing and selling but for communication and connection to people and information. Understanding this, even today, can flip your marketing and selling strategy on its head, but you’ll have far more success respecting the spirit of the ‘Net, rather than throwing money at hard-sell tactics.

(Bold emphasis mine.)

The teeth-on-edge part is more due to my personality quirk of being extraordinarily nit picky for historical accuracy. While communication and information sharing were a reason for the development of the Internet and the various Internet predecessors, the intent of this creation was facilitate technology development to defend against a potential missile attack by the Soviet Union. Let’s not romanticize the fact that the Internet is the product of the military industrial complex looking for better ways to ensure that our nukes would work while we stopped theirs. From there, various academic institutions used the development of various transfer protocols to allow for the sharing of research information between scientists. Even the academic users got pissed when the commercial sector became interested and formed the first ISPs. Then (and only then) did it manage to crawl its way to the public sector where personal and business driven demand encouraged the developments that we have seen in the last fifteen years, taking us from a text only output to the websites with animations, sights, and sounds that play like little movies on our screen. In that context, the Internet was birthed from the loins of the Cold War arms race, grew up in the labs of universities and colleges, and came to age in the commercial sector. While one could distill the reasoning as being communication and people connection, I would hardly say that the underlying factors are completely altruistic. (Read more here, here, and here.)

The other thing that rubs me the wrong way about the Aliza’s first rule is the term “not meant for”. To put such a limiting phrase in connection with the Internet seems, well, at odds with the true potential and application of the technology. If I had read that ten years ago, I would have agreed; but now, in looking at the exponential growth of applications and possibilities of the ‘Net, it feels short sighted.

The beauty, the magic, and the mystique of the Internet is that it is whatever the user wants it to be. It’s the technology equivalent of the The Mirror of Erised upon which a user can gaze into their web browser and see whatever they hold in their hearts. Hell, it goes a step beyond that, where a person can find, share, and create content as they best see fit.

I would take the two mentioned exceptions and turn them into a question. So what if someone wants to use the web for marketing? So what if someone wants to use the web for shopping? Hell, let’s just change the question into a generic “so what if someone wants to use the web for X?” and replace X with whatever so called objectionable term that is supposedly against “the spirit of the ‘Net”. My answer to each and every one would be that the Internet has grown large enough to accommodate all of these different types of uses and users.

For myself, the spirit of the ‘Net is the staggering number of connections that are made each and every day. Whether it is person, a business, charity, activist group, concept, or simply an idea, it is the link between any of these that holds the true spirit of the ‘Net. It provides the intellectual freedom to explore beyond our physical sight, reach, and limitations. It transcends international borders, governments, languages, and cultures to create the simplest of all connections, Point A to Point B. It rests in the hands of the user to define what A and B are, to find or create the link between them, and to give the proper context for themselves or others.

In the scope of the larger picture, shopping and marketing don’t even appear on my internet issues radar. There are bigger concerns such as open access, net neutrality, regional censorship, and finding ways to increase the reach of the internet to developing nations and areas around the world. There are still more connections to be made, more functions to be found, and uses to be implemented. The ‘Net has come a long way in the last fifteen years, but it has not nearly achieved its potential for limitless connections. It reminds me of the end of the Robert Frost poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

3 thoughts on “The Spirit of the ‘Net, Revised

  1. Interesting take on this – and how just a few words missing can change the meaning to anything.

    by my statement:
    The Internet was not meant for marketing and selling but for communication and connection to people and information.

    I was rushing through my thoughts that:

    The Internet – when original created – was not meant for marketing and selling but for communication and connection to people and information. Over time, the use of the Internet has changed (I could have gone on and on about the history which I did so in several of my books).

    Today, we take for granted that the Internet is (and has always been) a sales and marketing tool. But still the main reasons people use the Internet (please check all the stats on this) is to communicate and to conduct research (connect to information). The fact that over time all these programmers and companies, individuals and larger entities have added onto the backbone of the Internet with bells, whistles and functionality that purports to help make it easier to market and sell online doesn’t inherently mean that it still works as well as we all hope if we come to the Internet with preconceived notions.

    Also, a marketer or sales person ignoring the fact that people still want to communicate and connect on the Internet and value their online communities can be the kiss of death to their marketing and sales efforts.

    Honoring the Spirit of the Net for communications will get marketers and sales people much further – communicating respectfully and thoughtfully – than clamoring onto the Internet with the sole purpose of reaping monetary rewards from the tools and from the people using the tools. I am all for entrepreneurship and capitalism in a pure sense, but not at the expense of decency and respect and understanding the medium.

    Sorry about the additional rant. Just interesting how something can rub someone the wrong way because ofomissions. It happens all the time. A peril of online communications!

  2. Oh, and I forgot I wanted to comment on this:

    So what if someone wants to use the web for marketing? So what if someone wants to use the web for shopping? Hell, let’s just change the question into a generic “so what if someone wants to use the web for X?” and replace X with whatever so called objectionable term that is supposedly against “the spirit of the ‘Net”.

    I say, hell yeah, go for it.

    But having an understanding of how/why the Internet works the way it does and the underlying dynamics of online spaces/technology/tools makes it so much easier/better/stronger/more effective for anything you want to do. The Internet isn’t like turning on the TV where you don’t interact and don’t have to know how it actually works to use it. To be effective in whatever you do (or to have the most fun, get the most benefits, reap the most rewards, make the most money, etc.) you should know how things work. Don’t you think?

    BTW keep in mind, I was writing addressing people who might be interested in communicating/marketing/selling online using social media. I was addressing a particular audience with particular ideas. Not everyone who reads that post will be a marketer/seller but that’s what happens when you publish on an internationally available platform.

  3. Fair enough! I’d rather be corrected than continue being wrong. (Don’t tell my wife!)

    Context is king when discussions like this. Despite poking around your post to try to get a better idea of the type of blog it was posted in, I failed to discern your intended audience. As a librarian, sometimes I get stuck on the big picture and the big issues that revolve around the ‘Net. So, I guess my head is somewhat stuck in the clouds.

    In addressing your intended audience, I would say that the main reason that people use the internet is to connect. I help people everyday on the computer with their email, websites, and navigation. People go to the internet to connect; whether that connection is a person, an idea, a good or service, they seek a link between themselves and their goal. Those who seek to market and advertise would be wise to acknowledge this.

    As the internet enables the user to control the content presented, those who seek to disrupt (via popups, click through windows, and other annoying as hell web advertisements) will not be rewarded for their impediments. They really need to make any connection between themselves and a customer a meaningful experience. To be honest, I can’t say that the number of times I have purposefully click on a sidebar ad has numbered more than a dozen times nor has resulted in any actual sale. But it is brand and name reputation that has made me seek out the sites of businesses and stores to get a better look. And more often than not, I have found those online shopping experiences to be the most pleasant. (Perhaps that’s just my shopping style, but for me, it is what it is.)

    Perhaps some advertisers and marketers fail to realize that the price for the reach of the web is that there are a certain user expectations. While the sending of an email or posting an ad is a relatively low price (compared to more traditional methods), it is the damage to name and brand that can happen when unwelcome advertisements grace my inbox, my websites, and otherwise intrude my browser. Ads can be in my presence (I certainly grew up on enough television), but when they become obstacles, that’s when they cross the line.

    And I should say that I neglected to mention that I almost screamed “YES YES YES” on your point about Listening. I read far too many blogs (political, mainly) in which commentators are more interested in expressing their viewpoint than facilitating a true conversation. Your other rules were equally delightful.

    Thanks for taking the time to provide the proper context. Sometimes, I can be too literal for my own good. =D

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