What is it about a website that brings out the worst in some people? In the days before the internet, (yes, I am actually that old), we used to say that “business is war”. We generally had in mind faceless corporations when planning a strategy to get ahead of our competitors, but it was all very British. We frowned upon the American style of ‘in your face’ marketing.
These days it is a little different. With the arrival of the internet, the heat in the kitchen has been well and truly turned up. Your enemy now has a face, thanks to Facebook and communication is pretty much instant via Twitter. This time it is personal, very personal, if some of the insults banded around on Facebook are anything to go by.
One of the interesting things about social media is that it very easy to blurt out something that you may later regret. The more sceptical among us believe that the inability to later retract something is probably no accident. Like a tabloid newspaper, social media sites thrive on controversy. The more salacious the accusation, the more traffic there is to flood to the page and be outraged by its content. A percentage of this traffic clicks on the adverts and then “Bingo”, the cash registers start ringing.
According to at least one British MP, social media is not about the search for truth, it is the home of innuendo and half truths. Young people, the main protagonists, are having difficulties learning the difference.
I recall Homer’s daughter, Lisa, on a Simpsons episode, declaring that there was no news in the truth and no truth in the news. Matt Groening’s animated creations have a way of tuning in to what is really going on in society. I am still relatively new to the concept of social media,but as a web developer it is already clear to me that this is a numbers game. High volumes of traffic for the owners of social media sites, means higher revenue through advertising. It can be argued that social media has now become one of the most important mediums for anyone serious about promoting a business on the internet.
That’s OK then! When we see an advert featuring a wafer thin super model stuffing her face with Ferrero Rocher (not even slightly fattening) chocolates, we are not generally presented with an image of her throwing up in the bathroom afterwards. Advertising is after all, the suspension of reality and we should not therefore be surprised that marketing companies have been quick to embrace the world of social media…
Which brings me back to the initial question. Since setting out as a web designer here on the Costa Blanca, I have received death threats, been twisted out of payment for hundreds of hours of work and had former clients express disappointment at not being on page 1 of Google, despite being 6 months in arrears and never having visited their own website!
I even heard on the British news about a senior policeman who had his web designer arrested and put in jail on trumped up charges over a dispute over his website.
What is happening? Is there a new web-born virus which is causing normally rational and responsable people to become unhinged? Could the cause of this mysterious new ailment be social media itself? Facebook, Blogs and TV shows such as Big Brother all arrived on a tsunami of celebrity culture. Everyone now wants to be a VIP or famous in some way, no longer content with their seemingly ordinary lives. Some celebrity status seekers actually retreat into the world of virtual reality games, where they take on super hero status and stomp about destroying dragons and other imaginary monsters. This is worrying, very worrying indeed, as if the trend were to be taken to its logical conclusion, we are all going to end up living in the Matrix!!!
In the early days of the web, vanity publishing was really the domain of a few who had sufficient technical knowledge to make a web page. Now, anyone can be anyone and anywhere on the web thanks to sites such as Facebook.
It is still important to have a website if your business is about communication, something such as, “here is a list of houses we have for sale”, if you are an estate agent, for example. However, a corporate website can never really compete with the one thing that the web savvy solcialites really like most, which is to talk about themselves. It may only be a website, but if you mess with my website, you mess with me. I recall being told that nobody F***S with (name removed for health and safety reasons) after taking down a website that the client’s agent had asked to be cancelled. A subsequent meeting proved that this person rarely, if ever, visited his company’s website, but the idea that someone should have done something with the site that did not meet with his universal approval was enough to provoke outrage.
In the end we have to accept that a website is not just a collection of zeros and ones on some distant server. It represents the persona and celebrity culture aspirations of its owners. It could be that you are safer earning your living clearing land mines rather than dealing with the eggshell egos of some website owners, who in some cases merely have a desire to control all who come into contact with them…