Websites with free services such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are criticized because their interests may not always on their users. These websites don’t make money offering free services to users and consequently, they don’t have any obligation to fully support users. They typically sustain their businesses by offering ads; bluntly put, advertisers are their real customers and users are simply “products”. Fortunately, in many cases, these websites can serve the interest all parties equally well, but in other times, there are differences that need to be solved. In this situation, planners need to determine interests that must take precedence, even before the actual web development process begins.
Websites with free services that also accommodate advertising may have conflicts of interest and user privacy issues. Advertisers would benefit from any information about users, such as their behaviors and preferences. Often, users want to keep this information to themselves, forcing website planners to take side as needed. Taking a stand on users’ privacy could cause them lose some revenue from advertising, but pushing more user information to advertisers can directly reduce traffic. Also websites that carelessly give away specific user information will lose both their own integrity and users’ trust.
There’s nothing comes for free and all work still requires some form of compensation. Some people may want to offer gifts simply to get the emotional nourishment and enjoy the entire creative process, but they need to seek some amount of revenue to cover the server cost and feed their families. Often, the dilemma faced by the web development team is about choosing between getting emotional satisfaction and monetary payment. Obviously, not everyone is as lucky as the people behind the popular free online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, who receive constant donation from global users.
In most cases, the path will lead to some form of advertising. If users won’t pay for the services, advertisers will pay for them. The web development team needs to prepare the website to accommodate advertising and other types of sponsorship deals. This is where conflicts of interests may occur. Some websites with free services use ads to cover for the operational costs, but others are simply act as vehicles for full-blown promotional efforts. The goal of advertising in any website is to provide brief information to users and urge them click on ads.
Both goals could work separately, but in most cases ads could fulfill both functions.
The web development team should be aware that conflicts of interest won’t occur, which could intervene in their effort to deliver the best free service possible. It won’t go too well if the web development team tells users that they are the actual “product” as no good professionals want to ruin their integrity. While they want to deliver the best free services possible, the team typically tries to resolve conflicts by using specific explanations. Facebook, Twitter and Google rely heavily on advertising; and they even make specific guidelines on display requirements and access methods to serve their advertisers better. Third party apps developers should also be considered as users, but unfortunately, websites like Facebook and Twitter owe little to each of them. These developers may need to give in to any new requirement that’s intended to bring more revenue from advertising. There are actually popular online magazine websites and blogs that make ads look more prominent than the content itself. Their content is shaped to look more sensational, with the aim to bring in more traffic, instead of trying to enlighten users.
Defining a Proper Compromise
Compromises are typically considered as a concession to satisfy everyone’s needs, but there’s little room to make compromises on certain principles. As an example, the web development team should understand that there’s no compromise between honesty and dishonesty. There’s no way to make falsehood becomes a little more truthful.
Whenever the web development team experiences some amount of tension when making a decision, they should ask themselves exactly what kind of proper compromises to make. The concession should be fair enough that both parties can easily derive benefits. They shouldn’t take specific information from users without permission. Lastly, the decision taken shouldn’t compromise the integrity of their work.
When the dilemma is still there, the only answer is both simple and significant to the entire business operation. The only thing web development team can do is by charging some parts of the service, allowing them to deliver something better to users. The team will no longer compromise the interest of any party. By selling the service to users directly, there will be no conflicting interests and dubious design decisions.
One good example is App.net, which is an ad-free version of Twitter that asks for membership fees. This is the place where developers who are not satisfied with how Twitter is treating them can gather. The micro-messaging website clearly states that developers and services will pay for the service offered. It appears that people do pay for Twitter-like service, provided there’s enough value for them, such as the absence of ads and more focus on user experience.
When deciding to sell services, the web development team should be able to generate enough interest and excitement in the market. With a solid marketing team and if the web development team can define what people genuinely want, it is still possible to sell online services that are offered for free by other websites.
There’s nothing wrong with offering free or paid services, but there are times that even the most generous web development team needs to get some financial compensation to cover operational costs. If getting compensation from users is not acceptable, a website typically seeks to gain financial helps from other sources. They typically bring a new party to the table, a decision that could leads to conflicts of interests. The service provider, advertisers and users must have aligned goals, but in many cases, this can’t be achieved.
Fortunately, people have paid for products and services for centuries, especially if they can get some added values. When conflicts can’t be resolved, often the only way web development team can preserve their moral values is by asking people fees when they use some components of the services. This will turn users from “products” into actual customers and eliminate much of the conflicts. Offering partially free services should be a fair compromise to avoid crippling our integrity, limiting our creativity and surrendering our values.