by Adam Levin
There was a time, when the World Wide Web was young, that many entrepreneurs counted on the idea they could make money the old-fashioned way–by charging cyber-customers on a per-use basis, the same way they charged traditional brick-and-mortar patrons. Most print magazines, for example, felt they could make a seamless transition from paid print subscriptions to paid Internet subscriptions. Newspapers believed that some of their traditional departments, such as classifieds, would become huge profit centers because they would bring in the same revenue without the cost of all that paper or postage. However, it became clear very quickly that while many would be willing to pay for many physical goods by means of e-commerce, very few seemed terribly enthusiastic about paying for information or entertainment on a per-use basis.
As a result–a very good result in the opinion of many observers–almost all of the information on the Internet, including a great deal of entertainment–is free to all. The trouble, of course, is that creating and posting all that content still costs money, and so, slowly but very surely, much of the Web switched over to supporting content and services by means of advertising, analogous to the broadcast TV model. I believe that a significant number of people wouldn’t use Google or Facebook if they had to pay for it. But unlike broadcast TV, which only talks to you, the great strength of the Internet is its easy interactivity, and these characteristics produced a different kind of advertising strategy–one typically involving the extensive tracking of consumer activity.