You may have heard the line “If you are not paying for it, you are the product.” Evidently, it originated in Metafilter. It has been discussed on Lifehacker, Computerworld and Forbes. The statement is a reference to the older idea of “user generated content” or UGC. UGC has long been a holy grail of websites. You get visitors to your website to create content that attracts more visitors to do the same — and view ads. The site is free, so more and more people join. Revenue comes from advertising.
So if the customers are the advertisers, what does that make you? As the story goes, you are the product. As you are likely to view the ads, that is true. But as the producer of the content that attracts visitors, you are more akin to some kind of animal domesticated to produce the product.
This means that the site is designed to maximise your productivity as a content-generator and an ad-clicker.
Typically, Facebook is the target of concern about who is the customer. But they are not the first or only site to use this model. In fact, almost the entire first generation of Internet startups was based on generating eyeballs.Now there is a burgeoning economy based on the exchange of your personal data.
These days eyeballs do not matter as much for startups. New businesses focus on delivering a service of value, and demonstrating that with revenue.
At OnlineGroups.Net, we have always been clear that we want our customer to be you, not some third party with whom you have no relationship. We want to design our system so that you and your users can achieve your task: to collaborate easily in groups using email and the web. For that reason, we will place no ads on your online groups site. Instead, we charge a fee that we believe is fair for the service we provide.