New Literacies’ Chapter 3 Review: Leverage in Web 2.0 Business Models

Authors of New Literacies, Lankshear and Knobel, ask for a deeper discussion around how today’s Web 2.0 business models leverage their products/services and if there is some degree of user exploitation. This loaded question is definitely worth exploring in today’s internet-driven world. In this essay, I will cover how Web 2.0 companies applied leverage to their business models, discuss the leverage of two Web 2.0 key players, and how leverage can knowingly or unknowingly lead to user exploitation.
I will start with how Web 2.0 business models differ from Web 1.0 models. According to the authors, there are two defining differences. The first difference is that Web 1.0 models were applications that operated on users’ desktops, while Web 2.0 were built and operated on the web. (69) The second difference is that Web 2.0 products and services actually encouraged interactivity between the makers and the users. (69) The absolute genius of this is, “In the Web 2.0 business model, consumers or users actually help build the business for the ‘owner’”. (69) These companies applied leverage, or gathered user data, in a way never seen before.

Let’s explore two of the largest Web 2.0 players: Amazon and Google. Lankshear and Knobel write, “Amazon leveraged collective intelligence in the form of reader engagement and consumer data into the number one bibliographic data source on books, providing a free service for scholars as much as consumers, while simultaneously outstripping competitors in sales.” (71) This means Amazon users benefit from a gargantuan collection of books and reviews, while Amazon benefits by users continuously updating their bibliographic data directories. By gathering user data, Amazon employs targeted, user-specific marketing tactics. For example, I purchased a wetsuit on this site and at the bottom of the screen more “Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed” products displayed. I almost added neoprene five finger gloves and a Lycra hot skins hood. I have no problem with this tactic because Amazon, as a consumer site, is expected to market as effectively as possible to its consumers.

I do, however, question Google’s tactics. The authors explain, “Indeed, they [users] actively collaborate – whether they are aware of it or not—with Google.com by contributing to building a continuously improved and more dynamic database that is mediated by Google’s page rank system.” (70) I am fully aware that Google benefits from my every click, email, and Gmail chat, and yet I still choose to use their technology. I wonder more about the general public who are unaware of Google’s thorough tracking methods and do not realize they are choosing to be tracked. Robert Epstein (2013, May) Google’s Gotcha, U.S. News writes, “Google can and does monitor people – perhaps upwards of 90 percent of Internet users worldwide – whether they use a Google product or not, and most people have no idea they’re being monitored.” When Google’s business model emerged in the private sector, they were light years ahead of the public sector’s ability to regulate and protect the public. Do not get me wrong, I love Google and how it makes my life easier. I just wonder if the uninformed folks out there know they are being exploited.

Yes, Web 2.0 business models leverage user interactivity to their advantage, which warrants a certain amount of user exploitation. My biggest concern is if users are not aware of the intimate tracking occurring on their sites. Inform users, then participants are able to use Web 2.0 applications with their eyes wide open.

6 Comments

  • Hi Susannah – great synopsis of chapter 3. As I read this chapter I, too, picked up on Google’s tracking method. However, I did not share (at that time) the same perspective as you. I simply took it as a means to improve user experience. You bring up an interesting alternative to this perspective – that of exploitation.
    In response to the last sentence of your fourth paragraph – ” I just wonder if the uninformed folks out there know they are being exploited” – do you think it’s a matter of knowledge/understanding or whether they even care? Does knowing the inter-workings of this process (data tracking) stop us from using Google? Don’t get me wrong, I think people should understand what they are contributing to. However, I don’t think most people would care. Lets face it, Google has a rock solid platform and applications that make our lives better (to some degree). Would you agree?

  • Hi Susannah,
    You really did dive deep into web 2.0 in relation to business models. I really appreciated reading your review because it differed so much from mine!

    I do not think that Google’s business model adversely affects the end user. Also, I’m not sure the average end user of Google would comprehend the what the tracking really is and how it is affecting them.

    If you think about it, any company that makes money off the internet is using some kind of tracking system. You mention Amazon, they track everything you buy and prompt you to buy more (as you mentioned), this might not pose a problem to most users, but someone how has a spending problem might be coerced into buying more than they actually need. I know I’ve spent hours on Amazon looking at all the “shiny” things, only to be brought back down to earth by my husband (it goes both ways, he does it too).

    This tracking won’t change until there are laws passed that prevent it. Until then, we all have to keep up on our ‘digital literacies’ and remain conscious of our internet browsing habits.

  • Hi Susannah,
    Thank you for your post on this week’s chapter. I found your dive into web 2.0 business models to be very interesting and understand the concern of companies having the possibilities of tracking everything you do online. However, personally I do not know if it is such a big deal to me. I understand many websites out there track everything I do for example Google, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo, and etc, but I believe in some way it doesn’t really affect me. The advertisements they are showing me are based off my interests and if I choose to buy something then that is my choice. As for privacy goes, I do not know if there really is such a thing online and in some ways I feel that our representation online should reflect how we would want to be portrayed in real life.

  • Great dive. I agree with previous posts that being tracked may not really affect me, but I also think that people should be better informed as to the tracking a company is doing when you are online. We are trusting at times and if we are better informed as to how a company is using the data/information they collect some some of us may choose to make different decisions when online. It’s about being transparent. If there isn’t anything to hide, then be up front with all the information and allow the public to make their choices. Yes some companies do share this information, but it’s not always easily accessible.

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