how to restore the internet’s awesome original purpose

Is this really why we invented the internet? Wasn’t it supposed to connect every human on the planet to every other human on the planet, and possibly lead us into a future where all humans can understand each other better? Instead, it’s inundated with sales messages instead of real communications.

I’ve blogged before that one of the reasons we are so overwhelmed with advertising and spam on the internet is that there is an inexact relationship between supply and demand.

We’ve got supply nailed down; every business out there knows exactly what they are selling. They spend massive amounts of money on advertising and marketing their products, everything from billboards, to signs, to flyers to newspapers to the crazy vast numbers of online ads. As we experience the world, and as we increasingly experience the world via the internet, we are slathered with more and more ads.

The simple fact that our click-through rates on mailers, emails, and online ads are in the 2% or lower range will tell you that most ads are very poorly targeted. We are inundated at all times by vast numbers of advertisements for products and services that we are not interested in right now. Sure, much of this is due to algorithms which need to display ads to be able to charge advertisers, but I sense that most advertising, even seemingly highly targeted advertising, is making a tremendous amount of money for Google and the ad networks but is an abysmal return for the advertising businesses.

The engineer in me is telling me that there are massive inefficiencies in the system, a lack of a straight match between buyers and sellers, and there are many firms making bank in these spaces between. I sense that we can do better – we can do a better job of matching a buyer and a seller at just the right time, price and place, and thus reduce the massive amount of wasted advertising on the internet.

Think about eBay for a second – some people call it the “perfect store,” because sellers can find buyers for their products, and both parties pay the optimal price for the product. Both parties in the transaction win. eBay is a pure supply-side player – they are a catalog of suppliers, and when I, as a buyer wishes to purchase, I can go to eBay and bid on something and possibly buy it.

What about my demand though? What if I want something?

Is there a place on the internet where I can post a request for a product or a service, and then providers can bid to provide that product or service for me? Sure, there are places like Upwork where I can post a request for a service, and then ask people to bid for the work, but is there a place where I can ask for a specific product?

Say I want to go to Hawaii. Right now, I need to spend vast amounts of time searching for flights, hotels, and cars because of the internet and disintermediation, travel agents have almost disappeared. Why shouldn’t I be able to post the parameters of the trip that I would like, and have travel companies bid to provide it?

We used to applaud this disintermediation as giving control back to the consumer. The problem is that the consumer is ill-equipped, both time and skill wise, to do the best job in fulfilling their requests, without getting up to speed on the necessary skills to effectively complete the request.

In the future, maybe our personal bots can do the searching for us, but should we not be able to do the same now?

Think of it like job searching – you can post your resume on Craigslist and hope for someone to “buy you” (the supply), or you can look like a job description (a demand) and try to match yourself to the market.

I sense that some have been attempting to build a demand or matching model, which does a better job of connecting buyers and sellers at the right time, place and price, but that all efforts so far have failed. Some have told me that the reason this is is that people don’t really know what they want until they see if – they need the supply to be in their faces over and over until the demand hits, but I think that the disconnect is less than the customer doesn’t know what they want – its more that the product isn’t the correct fit with the expectations of the customer.

The customer wants to change some aspects of the product, but the seller only has what they have. Customers then settle for a product which is near what they demand, but not quite.

The question is – can we build a demand model for the internet which works – matching buyers and sellers so that they can buy products and services at the right place, time and price, or will we forever need to live in this world flooded with poorly targeted sales messages?

Or do we even need one?

As marketers, are we happy with these ultra-low hit rates for our sales messages, or should we demand something better?

As consumers, we should also demand something better.

As humans, we need to restore the interests original purpose: to connect us all, to better understand each other.


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