Earlier this year I took advantage of a subscription offer from Wired magazine.
$12 got me a year’s worth of colourful dead trees sent to my door.
This sounds like a great deal, but after just a few issues I’m feeling ripped off.
Wired reads like an über-chic mail order catalogue.
There are only a few interesting stories mixed in with a barrage of ads and PR pitches.
I feel like they should be paying me to read this stuff.
But that’s the reality of being a media consumer today: it’s an ad, ad world.
Nowhere is this more true than on the internet.
Slated to reach $40 billion this year, the online advertising industry exists in an environment seemingly designed for its never-ending growth.
The search giant Google is a case in point.
Google’s entire digital empire exists based on its massive advertising and promotion platform.
People that use these products have eyeballs, which Google can resell to advertisers.
Of course, Google’s not alone in the game.
Microsoft is late to this realization and has been playing a near desperate game of catch-up lately.
And Yahoo is threatening Google’s lead with some innovative new approaches to serving up advertisements online.
But for the time being, Google rules the ad roost.
And they may be extending their lead in an unexpected fashion soon.
A tasty fruit growing on the internet grapevine claims that Google is on the verge of releasing the “Gphone,” a mobile phone they’re going to give away for free.
Waitaminnit… free cell phones?
What’s the catch?
The same as with all Google product: ads.
Google will supposedly give anyone a free handset as long as they’re willing to submit themselves to an endless barrage of advertising in and amongst their text messages, voice calls, and internet browsing.
One must wonder, then: is the Gphone to be an innovative, customer-oriented service, or is it just the Google Ad in search of a new medium?
And this question leads me to wonder about the quality of ad-supported products.
When we use “free” tools such as Gmail, do our expectations drop?
Or, in other words, would we pay real money for Gmail?
Typically, I find people begrudgingly use free products and services on the internet.
Very few Gmail users “love” it. They more put up with the services because it permits them to keep some money in their pocket.
Because dollars are the easiest way for us to build a sense of value around the tools we use.
We have a harder time valuing our personal time and energy, or other similarly ephemeral assets.
As a result, we view the quality of those products with a greatly reduced critical capacity.
And so, thanks to ad dollars, mediocre products have a bountiful marketplace.
As a further result, innovation suffers.
For if zero dollars is the governing benchmark for the cost of internet-based products and services, then how can great new ideas flourish and grow?
They can’t. Unless they get bought up by Google, that is.
The simple fact is, beyond its search tool, there’s not much of Google that was developed in-house.
The majority of the products and services currently offered by Google were acquired from independent developers.
And while it might seem that Google is working to build some killer web software platform that will bring down Microsoft, the guiding spirit of Google’s behaviour is much more mundane.
With every unique product acquisition, Google draws more unsuspecting eyeballs into its lair to feed that perpetually famished beast in the corner: its ad machine.
In the end, advertising is what supports the Google empire and it’s the tie that binds their wide and disparate collection of online properties.
And it’s our eyeballs that are the fodder for that system.
But that’s nothing new.
For the low, low price of just $1 a month, I submit my own eyeballs to Wired’s catchy, kitschy, and glossy pulp and paper ad machine.
And you know what? Deep in my consumerist soul, I kind of like it.