Jul 202007

The short post that I put up deals principally with making social networking websites work: Attracting traffic, converting traffic to loyal, trusting repeat users, and then monetizing this trust in various ways. Rebecca Herold raises very interesting issues. As we learned from the cartoon in the New Yorker in July of 1993, “On the internet no one knows you’re a dog.” This suggests that you consider seriously the source and reliability of any information you get on the net, lest you end up taking medical advice or trading large positions in penny stocks without first getting an accurate leg count on your information provider. Of course, the situation has only gotten worse in the past fourteen years, and on the internet no one knows you’re sock puppeting, pretending to be someone you are not, or pretending not to be who you really are. Sock puppeting and anonymous posts remain significant challenges. John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, recently embarrassed himself when he was discovered to be the source of numerous posts of eight years, praising his own company, attacking competitors, even praising his own haircuts under an assumed name.

Dealing with issues of misuse of posts is central to maintaining trust. I personally distrust Wikipedia because of the misuse of entries on controversial subjects, like Hilary Clinton, George W. Bush, or evolution; the operators of Wikipedia have, belatedly, put in mechanisms to control at least some postings. The misuse of MySpace by students who were angry at former boyfriends and girlfriends became a bit of a mini-scandal at one of the universities where I spoke last year, and this, too, contributes to a loss of trust.

It is difficult enough to charge users for participating in social networking websites, and difficult enough to figure out ways to charge for content and advertising placed into the normal context of the website. Anything that destroys trust, causing users to believe that other user content is actually paid for, provided by advertisers, or in other ways is not genuine, will make charging impossible.

So … thanks to Rebecca Herold for adding her post. It needed to be said.


Eric K. Clemons

Eric K. Clemons is Professor of Operations and Information Management at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Clemons is a pioneer in the systematic study of the transformational impacts of information on the strategy and practice of business.


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