Let's Not Mess Up The Internet

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Do you love Seth Godin?

I first met Godin at an Internet event in New York City just prior to the launch of his book, Permission Marketing. This was the early days of the Internet. After reading Permission Marketing, I remember putting the book down and writing down one note: "I hope we don’t screw up the Internet." The proverbial "we" is you and I – the professional marketing community. Someone (in this case, Godin), had to write a business book to remind us all that we have to be vigilant with this new media channel. That we shouldn’t pollute it and blow it like we had done in the past with other marketing channels. That asking people’s permission to communicate with them was the right thing to do (no kidding). That the more permission we were allotted, the better our relationships could be.

Well, we messed it up.

Why do you think there are so many rules and regulations when it comes to email marketing and the problem of spam? There’s a reason the government is involved. Why is is that each and every time something new comes along, with it comes the derelicts and scumbags who will undermine it to make a buck and – in the process – ruin such an amazing gift. My good friend, Avinash Kaushik (author of Web Analytics – An Hour A Day and Web Analytics 2.0) is known to say that the Internet is God’s gift to humanity. That line always makes me smile and laugh. He’s right. It’s this massive gift. But, time and again, we blow it.

Let’s try to stop blowing it.

I’m in love with Kickstarter (more on that here: The Most Exciting Thing Happening In Digital Right Now). While the crowdfunding platform continues to grow and produce new and fascinating businesses in the creative space, I’m starting to see the early warning signals that the well is about to become polluted. This past week, NPR‘s All Tech Considered ran a news item titled, When A Kickstarter Campaign Fails, Does Anyone Get The Money Back?, that looked at projects that were funded, but have yet to deliver the goods promised to their backers (or customers). From the article: "That’s the conflict at the heart of Kickstarter: While the company’s policy says creators have to give refunds on failed projects, the website doesn’t have a mechanism to do it… As entrepreneurs come online, Kickstarter and hundreds of similar platforms will have to sort out if each transaction is a donation or a purchase." In short, should Kickstarter be responsible if a successfully backed project struggles in the production phase and is unable to deliver the goods as promised? Just a day later, Kickstarter addressed these issues in a blog post titled, Accountability on Kickstarter. They said: "We started Kickstarter as a new way for creators and audiences to work together to make things. The traditional funding systems are risk-averse and profit-focused, and tons of great ideas never get a chance as a result. We thought Kickstarter could open the door to a much wider variety of ideas and allow everyone to decide what they wanted to see exist in the world. Kickstarter is full of ambitious, innovative, and imaginative ideas that aren’t possible anywhere else. The pursuit of these projects with a guarantee doesn’t work. A Kickstarter where every project is guaranteed would be the same safe bets and retreads we see everywhere else. The fact that Kickstarter allows creators to take risks and attempt to create something ambitious is a feature, not a bug."

New questions and new ethics for a new world.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this unfolds and the challenges that creators are facing is nothing new. Kickstarter encourages these creators to be up-front and frank with their backers, through sharing the creative process via updates. All of these growing pains and production issues are not the things that worry me. It’s what comes next. As Kickstarter continues to grows, they must be vigilant with their screening process. It’s not a far step from having creators unable to fulfill on their promise to suddenly being in a position where individuals are creating initiatives with the sole purpose of extracting money from people without ever having any intention of delivering on the goods as promised.

It’s not just Kickstarter.

Kickstarter already has a lot of competition and – with each and every passing day – newer platforms are coming online. Greed does sad things to people. I’m sitting here, on a Saturday night enthralled by so many interesting Kickstarter projects. I want to fund them all. I want to continue to be a direct patron of the arts. With that, I can see how much Kickstarter has changed already and I’m hopeful that the evil-doers will not edge their way in and ruin what is a very good thing.

I’m hopeful that they won’t, but I’m not all that confident. Are you? 


  1. Hi Mitch, you are correct. We do mess up. There is another great book from Seth Godin called Meatball Sundae. He reminds us we use old way to force new marketing to suit our companies. But in actually, our companies need to change to suit the new marketing environment.
    That’s why when I still have a lot of old marketing mindset, we have spam, blast message (non targeted), etc

  2. There is virtually no chance this mechanism will not be exploited (likely gravely) given Kickstarter’s surprisingly naive stance. I don’t know what their margin is but taking out insurance on failed ideas seems like a no brainier?

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