Taking over the Net

Nothing in life is free, except, of course, access to information on the Net. And that's the way it ought to stay, writes Martin...

Nothing in life is free, except, of course, access to information on the Net. And that's the way it ought to stay, writes Martin Butler

It strikes me that we are all guilty of taking one aspect of e-business for granted, and this is the actual backbone itself - the Internet. Having evolved from an open infrastructure that anybody could join, the Internet is reaching a stage where businesses will have to start thinking seriously about their Internet strategies - not in terms of e-business, but from the point of view of the Internet itself.

Away from the technological considerations of bandwidth, access speeds, etc, we need to see how content is handled, ensuring that your content reaches its destination. One way of doing this is to multiply content push. This is particularly relevant with streaming media. Internet congestion can force streaming media to be broken - not an ideal situation in marketing terms. The technologies available to combat this can also have the effect of increasing network congestion, but they also come with a price.

This raises the question of whether the Internet will be usurped by those organisations that can afford to pay a premium for guaranteed service, leaving the smaller organisations to pick up the scraps. This is hardly in the spirit of the Internet, nor is it beneficial to e-business as a whole.

Lighten the load

It may be that new technologies will alleviate this situation, but experience has shown us (or should have shown us) that technology infrastructures do have trouble keeping up with usage and demand. It was not so long ago that the Internet was seen as an almost limitless pipeline, but increased use and increased content delivery has quickly changed that view.

Another area that businesses are targeting regarding content is the inappropriate use of trademarked, copyright or registered content. The well-publicised row between online music service Napster and the record industry is only one high-profile example, and there are many others bubbling under the surface.

Let's make one thing clear, I fully support people's rights to be paid for their work, and also support businesses in their fight to stop inappropriate use of their content. However, I do believe that this can be taken to extremes, and feel strongly that it can have the opposite effect to that which is desired.

Pay up or shut down

Let's take the example of fan sites. People will take a marketable product and create sites based around that product. They will, in many cases, also use material and content that is trademarked.

Increasingly, businesses are hunting down these sites and attempting to close them down. The reason most often stated by big business is that the sites are using material, such as images, for which they have not paid relevant licensing fees.

It is hard to argue against this point from a legal standpoint. But the question is, does it make marketing sense to close down fan sites? If individuals so love and admire your product that they want to extol its virtues over the Internet - in essence promote it at absolutely no cost to you other than some lost revenues - then why would you want to stop them? Why would you want to shut down what seems like the best marketing tool available?

I would have thought that if someone were saying complimentary things about your product, you would want to help them, not drag them through the courts. But perhaps there is an underlying, more sinister, motive here.

Perhaps this is an early indication of businesses trying to take over the Internet. And if that is the case, will the effect be the one that businesses imagine?

The Internet, and as a result e-commerce, has been built up by 'openness'. It can only continue to grow with the same degree of openness and freedom. If the only place a user can go for information is on the product vendor's site, then those users are likely to treat the information they access exactly the same as any other marketing-led information - with a degree of scepticism.

If, on the other hand, users can gather information from sites they know are independent, then that information will have more credibility. I use the word 'independent' with a degree of cynicism, knowing full well that not all 'independent' sites are truly independent, or accurate for that matter. Search engines can be geared to promote certain products upon payment of large fees. In the main, however, I am happier in the knowledge that users can have at least the taste of independence, which is exactly what some businesses are trying to remove.

There is some talk about the Internet becoming a type of club, where people can join if they choose. This would also mean that people could be expelled if they didn't follow the rules. But whose rules will they be forced to follow? Would those rules be universal? Would they be governed by one, international body or would these rules be country-specific?

The Internet is not about rules, it is about freedom of information, and easy access to that free information. Freedom of information is important; providing, of course, that it does not bring harm to others.

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