Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

Ethics and Tool Use

I just commented elsejournal (in a discussion of ethics) that Querki is trying to avoid the "My business model is dependent on keeping your eyeballs glued to the screen" syndrome. That's worth a little more thought.

I think a lot of people have been thinking this, but let's state it upfront: the Internet is a mixed blessing. Having all that information available is lovely, and being able to stay more in touch with distant friends can be great. But as a zillion people have observed, online social touch is not the same thing as real life. It's social popcorn: empty carbs with little of the real social nutrition that folks generally need. You can stuff yourself full with it but still not be satisfied.

I don't come to this opinion easily, mind: as I often say, online conversation is my professional focus, and I've been deeply enmeshed in it since 1987. The long-term goal is that Querki is going to have state-of-the-art conversation built in. And I do think it's a good thing in many ways, but when it becomes too high a proportion of your social life, it starts to become unhealthy.

Which is where business models come into it. For the past ten years, the trendy business model has been all about The Attention Economy. Instead of paying money for our services, we pay in Self-Information -- more or less literally, we pay many services by allowing them to spy on us. That being the case, many services want you to use them as much as possible, and "stickiness" is the name of the game: keeping you stuck using the service for as many hours a day as possible. Which feeds the unhealthy.

So let's put those pieces together: this business model is, in a very real sense, unethical. If you're making your money by keeping people focused on a screen, you're keeping them away from the rest of the world, and that is *bad* for your customers. Many of them don't consciously mind it -- heck, many of them *like* it -- but it's basically feeding an addiction.

I don't recall mentioning it before, but this is one of the primary reasons why I'm hoping Querki can make most of its money from real, old-fashioned memberships. I want this to be a *tool* -- a useful and powerful tool that I hope folks find many uses for -- but it should be for serving your needs, *not* keeping you stuck in front of the computer. If folks find that they get what they need from Querki in three minutes a day, that's great -- giving you what you need as efficiently as possible is one of the primary design goals. We'll have advertisements for non-members -- there are multiple reasons why that's necessary -- but I'd far rather sell base memberships to everybody and not have to use those, and I'm not going to optimize for the Attention Economy.

Maybe, if we're terribly lucky, we can help encourage a bit of a movement. Slogans, anyone? "The Internet is a Tool, not a Lifestyle", or something like that?
Tags: ethics, querki

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