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A kind of supernatural resonance online December 20, 2012 11:12 AM   Subscribe

Derek Powazek, editor at the Fray does not agree with BlueBeetle's famous MetaFilter comment: "If you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold." In a follow up post he suggests an alternative: “If you don’t know how a startup will make money, neither do they.
posted by Lanark to MetaFilter-Related at 11:12 AM (52 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

Mefi's own fraying, fwiw. And yeah, the quote was going around a bit again the other day specifically in response to the whole Instagram thing.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:21 AM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


also - fraying, creator of cute fight! my cat is cuter than your cat. don't believe me? well lets fight!
posted by nadawi at 11:24 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you are not cute, you're not family; you're the pet being pwned.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:26 AM on December 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Just because the company doesn't know currently how they'll monetize their website doesn't mean their user base isn't any less of a commodity. That's what spurs venture capitalists to give them more money, the potential of a flourishing community to make money down the line.
posted by inturnaround at 11:29 AM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


“If you don’t know how a startup will make money, neither do they.”

Meh, it's not sexy, don't have have zing or pop. Send it back to Copyriting and lets try a couple of different ideas. I need these STAT, so go ahead and prepare for takeout tonight.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:34 AM on December 20, 2012


I am not totally sure I agree with his dissection of the "you are not the product" line - yeah, it's glib, but there's truth there - but I am totally on board with the idea that you need to understand the business models of the companies you are doing business with.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 11:37 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The best discussion of the whole should-users-trust-free-services topic is by Maciej of pinboard. (Mefi's own?)
posted by gauche at 11:45 AM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


O HAI, Mefi. Thanks for the linkage.

inturnaround: True. Point was, if the companies were more honest about their business plans, we could then make a more educated decision about if/how we want to participate. And they can save themselves the gnashing of teeth that inevitably happens when they do start to make money. Everybody wins.

restless_nomad: There's definitely some truth in it, and I acknowledge that, but there's also a lot of dangerous assumptions that I wanted to call out.

gauche: I specifically mention that post towards the end of the essay. The Pinboard model doesn't work for everybody. It may not work for most.

And Lanark: Thanks for noticing my favorite phrase in the whole thing. :-)
posted by fraying at 11:57 AM on December 20, 2012


Aren't startups with no business plan usually just hoping to get acquired?
posted by ODiV at 12:03 PM on December 20, 2012


I don’t know who said it first

We sure do!
posted by milestogo at 12:08 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


No disrespect to BlueBeetle, but that idea has been around for a long time. I remember discussing it in college in the early 90s. Like I said in the essay, free ad-supported media, and all the hand-wringing that comes with it, has been around for a long time.
posted by fraying at 12:14 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


It reminds me of McLuhan’s “the medium is the message,” a phrase that is seemingly deep but collapses into pointlessness the moment you think about using it in any practical way.

fraying, you lost me here. The idea that the medium influences how the message is perceived is not "stoner" pointlessness; it does indeed provide a practical way of thinking about and presenting communication.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:16 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Mefi's own?)

MeFi's own.
posted by EvaDestruction at 12:20 PM on December 20, 2012


Sangermaine: You're allowed to skip that part. It's totally beside the point. (And you're not the only one who got interrupted there. I always seem to find a way to shoot myself in the foot in the introduction.)
posted by fraying at 12:21 PM on December 20, 2012


I think the big assumption - that the phrasing of "you are the product" unfortunately reinforces - that the customer is the most important is definitely a naive one. I have never worked for a business, ever, for whom the relationship with any individual customer was more important or treated with more thought and care than the relationship with the suppliers. But they aren't the same relationship, and the same naivete that fosters that assumption can definitely lead people into making bad decisions.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 12:26 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


> I am totally on board with the idea that you need to understand the business models of the companies you are doing business with.

So, about this proposal we just got from, uh "Murder, Incorporated"
posted by jfuller at 12:49 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


restless_nomad: Excellent point.
posted by fraying at 12:54 PM on December 20, 2012


No disrespect to BlueBeetle, but that idea has been around for a long time

Yeah, and blue_beetle and others have acknowledged it too. I think in the last few discussions of origin people pulled out quotes for USENET posts in the early 90s, and it might have already been an old idea then. But the way it was posted here was a nice little summation and I like how people use it describe things like Instagram (ok, end derail, sorry).
posted by mathowie (staff) at 12:57 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


mathowie: You'll be happy to know that the mefi link has been emailed/tweeted to me half a million times now. Okay, maybe just a quarter million.
posted by fraying at 1:16 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


i like to think i was the first.
posted by nadawi at 1:33 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, and blue_beetle and others have acknowledged it too.

But who acknowledged it in the pithiest way, and thus will get all the accolades going forward?
posted by SpiffyRob at 1:49 PM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


...if the companies were more honest about their business plans, we could then make a more educated decision about if/how we want to participate.

Many Some of these plans are kept quiet because they're based on secretly exploiting users who would never participate if they realized what their true role was.
posted by ceribus peribus at 2:07 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think there's room for both phrases to be true....
posted by schmod at 2:35 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


ceribus peribus - but that's the point, right? that if you feel like a company you're feeding content into doesn't have a business plan, their plan is probably in the "exploit the users" pile. that puts the onus on the companies to define their plans.
posted by nadawi at 2:54 PM on December 20, 2012


I think there's room for both phrases to be true....

Well perhaps a "box" where they are both true/not true, with a lump of 50:50 activating poison...

pop the quiff already!!!
posted by edgeways at 2:59 PM on December 20, 2012


Agreed, nadawi, and users should definitely try to check this out. Just don't expect to actually find a company being upfront about an exploitative plan any more than you'd expect a movie villain to explain his entire evil scheme to the hero.
Maybe that's not the best example.
posted by ceribus peribus at 3:10 PM on December 20, 2012


Okay, I've given this a lot of thought, and it's really pointless, but I hate to waste it now that I wrote it:

If you're not the one quoting the MeFite, then you're in Soviet Russia.
posted by davejay at 3:33 PM on December 20, 2012


perhaps I should have thought for a few more minutes
posted by davejay at 3:33 PM on December 20, 2012


And yet I never get credit for my phrase, which is not only true, but I was the first to say it:

If you buy a hat, no matter how odd or inappropriate for you, after wearing it for two weeks, you will become the sort of person who will wear that hat.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:42 PM on December 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


Thanks for giving me the opening for the confession I've longed to make here:

I look great in a fedora.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:48 PM on December 20, 2012


I am not totally sure I agree with his dissection of the "you are not the product" line

I’m pretty sure I didn’t agree. Actually, his sort of sounded like the stoner argument that falls apart. He seemed like he was arguing with himself.

Assumption; If you sign up for Facebook they will come over to your house and make Jello for you. NO, they will not! Why does everyone think this?
posted by bongo_x at 3:49 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you sign up for Facebook they will come over to your house and make Jello for you.

I hate it when they do that. How do I make them stop? Is there a setting or something?
posted by trinity8-director at 4:05 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dial the Cosby knob to zero.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:07 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think this dissection shows the basic weakness of truisms better than it shows anything else.

It's easy to have a conversation where some, all, or none of the assumptions that the slogan in isolation appears to make. Whenever you drop the slogan, its meaning will conform to the assumptions in play at the moment. What if everyone in the conversation is also in marketing?
posted by LogicalDash at 4:33 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of a little joke I heard the other day.

A million people walk into a bar in Silicon Valley. Nobody buys a drink. The bar's declared an unqualified success.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:57 PM on December 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


If you are not paying for something, and you have low self-esteem, then it doesn't matter if you are stealing it because you'll feel the same regardless.
posted by Brian B. at 6:58 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


While helping manage Google Apps for Education adoption at a university, I encountered nearly verbatim quotes of the "you're the product being sold" line probably a dozen times from people opposed to Google Apps, typically followed by "THEY'RE HARVESTING METADATA AND USAGE STATISTICS AND THINGS ABOUT US FOR REASONS. I JUST KNOW IT."

So, over and over, I had to say, well, here's their privacy policy and what we understand from our contract, and as you can see, in this case we're not actually the product being sold. But I'd go on to say you might well speculate this is a "first hit's free" situation where we'll have to pay for it in a few years, because that's a clear possibility. Or it may be a loss leader where we're expected to need to pay for add-ons like mail archiving and extra disk space that make up for the free stuff, because there definitely are paid services available. Or it may be your basic monopolistic behavior where they eat the loss and give this away free to shut other players out of the market they then control and price how they like. Or it may be they're doing what Apple always has: give education discounts to capture consumers while young, anticipating a lifetime of paid consumer loyalty thereafter. Or it may be that the folks currently in charge have gobs of money, infrastructure, idealism, and genuine respect for educational institutions, and they sincerely want to help. Or it may be that they have no idea how they'll make money off this but it seems like a good idea for now. So we don't know the real motivations here, just that some of your specific fears are probably unfounded, and the deal is probably worth the cash we may have to pay for it in the future.

Anyway, I have to say that, although I found the "you're the product being sold" comment clever the first time I heard it, it struck me as maddeningly facile when dealing with it in the context of an actual debate with, like, details and stuff.

TL;DR: if you're not paying, you're the product being sold!
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:27 PM on December 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


Metafilter: an actual debate with, like, details and stuff.
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:58 AM on December 21, 2012


fwiw, fraying, I thought the comparison to the phrase "the medium is the message" was insightful. Of course the medium influences the perception of the message, but saying "the medium IS the message" is not the same thing and is far less easy to defend as true and not just an inscrutably abstract phrase that we'd like to pretend we understand.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 4:24 AM on December 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I really prefer situations in which the massage is the medium.
posted by Too-Ticky at 6:17 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The median is the message.
posted by Brian B. at 7:15 AM on December 21, 2012


I get my spirits communicated with by a shiatsu master; the medium is the masseuse.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:26 AM on December 21, 2012


I used to know a girl who set up a business where you could get 5 min. massage while stuck in traffic.

The median was the masseuse.
posted by Gygesringtone at 8:41 AM on December 21, 2012


I know a girl who manufactures high-temperature superalloys. The molybdenum is the mass use.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:22 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the medium being massaged.
posted by Lanark at 12:11 PM on December 21, 2012


treehorn+bunny: Thanks! A lot of people seem to be missing the end of that sentence: "in any practical way."

Personally, I love McLuhan in general and that aphorism in particular (hell, I worked at HotWired - he was our patron saint), but it's certainly not practical when it comes to using it to do anything, just like "you are the product." To use these phrases requires a lot of interpretation, which is what I was attempting to do in those posts.

Anyway. Thanks for the discussion and the laughs here, everyone. This almost makes me miss having comments on my blog.

Almost.
posted by fraying at 12:22 PM on December 21, 2012


It reminds me of McLuhan’s “the medium is the message,” a phrase that is seemingly deep but collapses into pointlessness the moment you think about using it in any practical way.

It used to be that if I wanted to contact people electronically, I could email them, or, in some cases, IM them. IMs, obviously, don't lend themselves to long messages from one person; they're more conversational. And of course IMs, while they lend themselves to greater time between request and response than does, say, a phone conversation, don't approach the decoupling that email affords. So there isn't a lot of competition between email and IMs, despite the existence of rapid-fire email exchanges that approach the conversational feel of IMs. Plausibly, a short "hey what's up?" email consequently carries with it a meta-message like: "get back to me when it's convenient", whereas a "hey what's up?" IM might out-of-bandily convey: please get back to me shortly. The IM, for instance, is much more likely to be a prelude to an invitation to do something in the very near future than is the email.

Presently there are many more venues for what are, essentially, email messages. In some cases, if I want to get in touch with someone, I have the choice of sending them an email, writing them a facebook message, or writing them an OkCupid message. Let's suppose that I want to get in touch with a single woman with whom I am acquainted but not great friends, and I have at my disposal those three media.

Email and facebook messsages, well, they aren't too distinct, though I find that I tend to take facebook messages—which lack a subject line, and in which signature blocks are absolutely not conventional—as more casual, and chattier, than email messages, at least when one hasn't yet got into the custom of interacting by email-like means with the recipient. There seems to be less invested in them (and email would be correspondingly less formal than a letter or even a postcard). OkCupid's messages are like facebook's in that there's no subject line (though some people do use something like signatures, at least after a certain number of messages: after all, by default, you don't know each others' real name). But it would be tricky to send the exact same message (exact same message textually considered, that is) through facebook or OkCupid, while at the same time sending, you know, the exact same message to the recipient. While conveying the same thing. (Maybe this would be possible by making the message considered in the abstract one that is overtly seductive in intent: if you were unambiguously asking someone out for a date, for instance.) The message sent by OkCupid's messaging system, just because it's on OkCupid, has a subtext that the one on facebook does not.
posted by kenko at 5:14 PM on December 21, 2012


It reminds me of McLuhan’s “the medium is the message,” a phrase that is seemingly deep but collapses into pointlessness the moment you think about using it in any practical way.

Perhaps reading it as "the medium determines the context/import/value/effect of the (now medium themed) message" is more useful. It was somewhat obvious/apparent/insightful at the time it was printed.
posted by Brian B. at 8:57 PM on December 21, 2012




In my 40+ years on this planet, one thing I have learned is that my (or any other individual's) inability to imagine how a thing might happen is not proof of that thing's impossibility.

I am not (or perhaps I should say "no longer") arrogant enough to believe that just because I am unable to imagine how a startup plans to make money, no one else, including the founders, can have an idea how to make money with it either.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:22 PM on December 27, 2012


Just noting: in Andrew Sullivan's long post today explaining his decision to take his blog independent again on an ad-free, pay-what-you-like-so-long-as-it's-at-least-$19.99-a-year basis, he links back to blue_beetle's "classic saying," adding, "We want to treat our readers better than that."
posted by mediareport at 9:35 PM on January 2, 2013


MCMikeNamara: "Thanks for giving me the opening for the confession I've longed to make here:

I look great in a fedora
"

At last, my plan is taking effect!
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:08 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


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