I know this is supposed to be a business blog and maybe I’ll find a business point as I’m writing this but business is really quite far from my mind today. If you’re even a little bit aware of what is going on in the world at large and in our country, you’re probably a little bit distracted at well.
I’ve spent that last 25 years or so involved in technology, mostly in the content publishing and monetization space as well as online commerce. I used to think that what we were developing was going to greatly improve peoples’ lives. After all, nearly everything we’ve learned over the last couple of thousand years is at our disposal. We didn’t have to spend time shopping and could use our newly-available time to improve our lives and those of others. Boy, was I wrong.
Instead of improving things, technology has in many ways made our lives worse. Take news and information. 25 years ago, journalism was something that was a profession with standards. The news was fact-based, and those facts were researched and confirmed before they were disseminated. Now, everyone is a publisher (including yours truly). Even though the dream of unlimited information has come to fruition, much of what passes as “information” is, in fact, absolute made-up garbage that hasn’t been vetted by anyone. The people who control the platforms – Facebook, Twitter, etc. – refuse to step in for the most part. All of the bad things we thought were possible but unlikely given the noble mission we were on have come to pass, just as the mission has gone from improving lives to making as much money as possible.
I read what my friends post on social media. Inevitably, the comments revert to factless name-calling. I probably spend as much time checking out the veracity of what I read as I do reading the original pieces before ever commenting. When I do, it’s generally to provide the facts as best I can find them. Leisure time? Do any of you feel more relaxed as your use of technology has grown? More likely, you feel like you’re never disconnected from work, that you’re missing something and the amount of information that is thrown at you is overwhelming. Think about how many series or movies you’ve been wanting to stream. We’ve all mostly had the last month or so off. Are you caught up? Probably not, and that’s leisure stuff. Hey, thank goodness there haven’t been any sports or we’d NEVER get anything done!
Maybe that’s the business point today. No, we can’t turn it all off – we’re way past the point of no return. But maybe we can do a better job of prioritizing. Limit ourselves to the very few information sources that DO check their facts, even if they publish 10 minutes later. Find first-hand data, not third-hand reporting. Bite your tongue (or your keyboard) before responding to everyone with whom you disagree (seriously, have you ever changed anyone’s mind via a comment?). Breathe.
At many Grateful Dead shows, there came a moment when the crowd would have pushed forward so much that the people up front were getting crushed. Bob Weir would then say
“Alright, now we’re gonna play everybody’s favorite fun game, move back!… Now when I tell you to take a step back, everybody take a step back! Right? Right! Okay, take a step back! And take another step back! And take yet another step back! And another step back! Take a step back! Doesn’t everybody feel better?”
So take a step back, ok?
You may or may not know that in addition to your phone or your web browser tracking your every move that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) does as well. Naturally, they use the data themselves to sell ads or they sell it to others who do so on their behalf.
Last June, the good legislators of Maine passed a bill that prohibits the practice. It’s not revolutionary. Until the current administration took office in 2017, there were Federal regulations that prohibited it as well. To make up for this, in June 2019, Maine Governor Janet Mills signed a law designed to prevent ISPs from “the use, sale, or distribution of a customer’s personal information by internet providers without the express consent of the customer.” The law had bipartisan support and passed the state senate unanimously.
I’ll let MediaPost take it from here:
Broadband carriers are suing to block a Maine privacy bill that requires Internet service providers to obtain consumers’ opt-in consent before drawing on their web activity for ad targeting.
“Protecting customer privacy is a laudable objective that ISPs support,” the major broadband industry organizations write in a complaint filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Maine. “But Maine has not shown — through evidence in the legislative record — that ISPs’ privacy practices are causing any harm whatsoever to consumers.”
Here is where I come out on this and it’s something that might just apply to your business as well. First, privacy is going to become THE issue over the next couple of years as more people become aware of just how ubiquitous tracking is in their lives. There was a frightening report in the Times a couple of weeks ago that detailed just how much information was being collected. Does it seem unreasonable that some folks would like to take back a modicum of control? WE need to respect people’s wishes, or at least make a cogent argument about why they should let us have their data in return for the services we’re providing. I’d gladly give my ISP data if they’d cut the price of my internet service in half. But at least ask me for permission to track me and make me aware of what you’re collecting and why.
Second, ISP’s make an insane amount of money selling broadband access. Don’t buy their stuff about how much they invest in infrastructure – it’s trivial. Do they really need to sell ads on top of this? I’m a capitalist but I’m also a customer-advocate. Know when to say when people. When you’re already drunk on cash from your basic business, maybe it’s time to step away from the bar when you’re starting to treat your customers as a commodity.
When you’re suing to overturn this law, you’re suing your customers, plain and simple. Do any of you believe that having all of your personal data out there for anyone to purchase and use (and it’s out there) isn’t causing harm as the ISP’s allege? It’s a similar situation to the growth of ad blockers – the limit of consumers’ tolerance was hit and suddenly they revolted. This might be a good time to buy stock in VPN companies and the ones that still make dumb phones – text only, minimal tracking. We’ll see, won’t we? But I know for sure that suing and otherwise abusing your customers is a bad idea for any of us.
Happy Foodie Friday! This article came into my news feed this morning. It’s about Walmart’s store of the future, where robots can fill grocery orders up to 10 times faster than humans. Pretty spiffy and it’s an interesting read, but it also got me thinking about a pretty important distinction about which I think you may want to ruminate.
When I go to the grocery store (every Thursday!), I have a list of things I want to buy. Most of the things on that list are there because I’ve planned out meals for the week and I need things to make those meals possible. It’s a pretty straightforward task. Other things are on the list because I use them in general and they’re on sale. Maybe I have a coupon that for them that is expiring. Maybe they’re on sale AND I have a coupon (can you feel the excitement?). Again, it’s pretty cut and dry – here’s the thing on the list, buy it and bring it home.
That’s really only half the trip, however. Inevitably, I find things to buy that aren’t on the list. I’ve found them as part of the shopping experience. Maybe it’s an unadvertised sale, maybe some local produce came in and looks spectacular. This is experience-oriented shopping versus the aforementioned task-oriented shopping.
Back to the article. It’s lovely that Walmart (and Amazon and others) are extremely efficient in servicing these orders, but they’re only serving the task-oriented shoppers. In-store discovery is impossible when there is no in-store experience. That’s why you always see “people who bought (the thing you’re buying) also bought (another thing).’ I think it’s also why Amazon is moving into physical stores, both through Whole Foods and their own “register-less” stores. Obviously, serving the task-oriented shopper is only half the battle.
I think it’s the same in other businesses. Almost every business interacts with customers, partners, vendors, and employees in a task-oriented framework. When you stop and think about it, good businesses make sure there is an experience-oriented aspect to the relationship as well. What I mean is an experience that the participants can enjoy for its own sake and not as a means for accomplishing a task or achieving an extrinsic goal. Maybe it’s just drinks after work with no agenda. Maybe it’s a round of golf. All of my best business relationships had both task-oriented and experience-oriented aspects.
Think about how you interact with your customers. Is everything a task where items get ticked off a list or is there an experience that’s part of the relationship? How can you bring that balance?