The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
When You Become The Product
As a web developer, a developer, a programmer, a software engineer, whatever you wish to call it, but for this article, we will just stick with developer. I must say: there is nothing better than writing an application, distributing, and having people use it. Even a blog falls into that category: there is nothing better than acquiring real life readers who are people actually reading your blog. The idea of most websites is to sell a product or in the case of blogs, ideas and opinions about something.
For most developers, however, they are usually hired off by a company and they work on product for months or years, adding new features, fixing old features, or working on newer products. Some get lucky, start their own companies and develop useful web applications that people can use. For the developer, there is really nothing in the application itself to state who did what or what was worked on, save for the comments that can only be read by the team who works in the application. However, having been someone who has worked on several different applications, there is a sense of pride in knowing you worked on something and it is out there.
Much the same as anyone in a similar field: the engineers, the construction workers, the investors, and all the people that make things happen behind the scenes. Buildings do not just appear out of no where; computer programs do not just write themselves (in the future, they might), and food is not automatically made. For most of the hundreds of thousands of jobs out there, most go completely uncredited. Our use of social media and all the hours of development time that go into and continue to go into improving it go uncredited to the developers who make it happen.
There was a time where websites could not handle large amounts of traffic, yet social media rarely ever goes down, if ever at all. For those of you early users, you probably remember there were times where you tried to login to your account, only to find the website was actually down. Nowadays, most large websites sit on a cloud server, and when one server crashes, another loads up to take its place, thus making it almost impossible for massive websites to go down. After all, with the amount of traffic these websites are receiving, they cannot afford to go down.
Speaking of affordability, social media websites are completely free and they will likely never cost any money to use, so exactly how do they make their money? Combined across the board, social media is likely worth a trillion dollars. A trillion to who? Advertisement companies. Who is the product? You are, the user of social media. Because of you, companies want to purchase advertisement space in order to gain your attention. Many hope for the click, hopefully a lead generation or a sale, but too many others must settle for the impression.
A click means that people are clicking on the advertisement; a lead generation is someone who becomes very interested in the product and may sign up for the trial; a sale is the customer purchase of the product; and finally, the impression is just people seeing it. Impressions, although it may seem useless, is actually very useful. I can just mention McDonalds, Wendys, Burger King, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Dominoes Pizza, KFC, which are among the most dominant fast food chains in the world, and you already know what their logos look like. Don’t you? In fact, someone reading this very confession right now wants to eat at one of these fast food chains and will go there for lunch or dinner simply because I mentioned it. That is how powerful these companies are embedded into us. That is called an impression. These companies have been paying millions of dollars a year to get you to notice them. Has it worked? Of course it has! Even your children could probably tell you what the logo looks like to all of the fast food chains I have listed.
You are the product. You are using the product they offer. It is kept free for a reason. Because you pay for it in giving up Internet privacy and usage. Whether Google, Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, you can set an ad to reach a very specific group of people. The social media networks already know what category you fall into and thus, an advertiser can more easily reach you. There is nothing wrong with being the product. In this day and age of our time, being kept as the consumer is what keeps the economy and the world going round. Our world is becoming much more social-media oriented. Your family and friends are on at least one social media network. Those who are “not connected” at all are treated as if they are “living off the grid”.
For social media networks, they are nothing more than products to be used by humans. If no one visited them, they would be useless and no longer serve a purpose. Because we choose to be the product and use the product, and in our fast-paced world, this is the way it is, there is no living above or beyond the influence of social media. Social media allows us to connect and talk with family and friends, or even
talk to read and comment with people we’ve never met. No where in the history of mankind could I talk to someone living in India while I sit on my couch in the United States, or comment with a group of 1,000 people all at the same time. For this, the benefits of social media are powerful and very influential.
Becoming the product means that we are the very things that “bring in the money”. It is unfortunate that we are a complete world that depends on money to sustain our lives, but being a money-driven system, what are we missing out on? I have never lived in a world where money was useless, thus it is probably not worth getting into the fantasy where there is a world that lives without money. Nothing is free in the world. But at the cost of actually being the product.
There is another side to the story: developers and companies struggle to compete with free. Social media dominates the majority of the free realm, in a world where people do not have money or do not want to pay for anything, free is something very hard to compete with, yet there are many people and companies still charging. Like Napster and YouTube affected the music industry, social media has affected the technology industry. Giving away everything for free would saturate the market. However, with free also comes its price: lack of support or care for the consumer.
The one thing that allows companies and developers to still make a living off of the things they create and charge for them is free. By charging for them: the company and developers are paid to care and are much more concerned with your problems, than those who are not paying for anything. If you are considering purchasing a web app or using the “free version”, keep in mind that you will get what you pay for. By purchasing products that a developer has made, you are, in essence, helping another human being. While I do despise money, I must do what I have to in order to make a living. The world require I use money to pay bills, therefore, I must do things to obtain money.
“Free” sounds all too good to be true because it is, or isn’t, actually. You pay for free with privacy by giving it up. Lack of privacy means more money for the company that is selling you as the product. Giving up privacy may not seem like a bad deal for free, but just how much privacy are you willing to give up? Websites like Google and TruePeopleSearch have enough information about everyone. While the information may not be 100% accurate, the fact that your full name is listed means that information about you is being found and scraped from the Internet. There used to be a time where people valued their privacy much more than they do. At least, offline, most people still do by closing the shades, locking their doors, and only occasionally talk to their neighbors.
When you pay for a product, you are hopefully paying for the value of privacy. Most of these companies that take your money on a subscription basis or a pay-as-you-go system value your privacy much more because they are not trying to sell to advertisers, but rely on your usage of their product. In return, they continue to support the product and you get value from their product, while they also earn a paycheck in order to live as well.
Social media is not going away and it never will. The platforms are not too valuable to fail and because people have become the product, similar to the Matrix movies, the machines will continue to be powered by the human attention span. Every few months, and it seems to be happening at a faster rate, all of the social media platforms are continuously updating their privacy policies, not to inform you that your profile is getting more private and secure, but to let you know that you have less privacy and there is really nothing you can do about it. I am not suggesting that we stop using social media altogether, but that we just acknowledge what the different between a paid app and a free app are, and take a hard look at what free can do to privacy, especially when you are a company that no longer truly values privacy at all.