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.