Money for nothing and the clicks for free

The Internet is coming up on 20 years soon and there will be an enormous amount of analysis on how it changed the world. There’s no doubt that it connected, globalized, outsourced, and mobilized our lives. But what it never did…thought some expected it to, was give us money for nothing.

Dire Straits cynical look at the music industry is a great analogy. It was 1984, MTV was still about music videos and band co-founder Mark Knopfler was in an appliance store looking at a wall of televisions, all tuned to MTV. The blue collar, hard hat-wearing worker next to him, staring at the televisions muttered, “That ain’t workin’…” and spawned a famous hit song, Money for Nothing.

If you think about it, the digital revolution that was kicked off when music stepped into new technology isn’t all that different from the rise of the Internet. Except in music’s case, technology has been part of the undoing of a powerful, profitable industry that once was the gatekeeper for innovation, fame and fortune.

So when has the Internet disrupted itself in a bad way? Every time we’ve tried to get money for nothing. Many great ideas have been watered down or discredited by the pursuit of quick, easy wins:

Internet search

When it first dawned on us that search returns on the Internet would have commercial value, companies quickly jumped on search engine optimization (SEO) as the way to get money for nothing. Rather than trust relevance, they decided to throw hidden search terms into sites, created ‘trash’ content that had nothing more than the right words and phrases, and other tricks to game the Google rankings.

The more they did this, the more everyone else needed to join in to have legitimate ranking, and Internet search’s money for nothing is now an arms race that has lost relevance in many ways. Internet search is on shaky ground and unable to make the leap to mobile, which we’ll get to in a moment.

Social media

Social media is undoubtedly the greatest connector of human beings in history. But as quickly as we realized this, clever minds went to work figuring out how to fake connection and to automate the process of authenticity. Social media’s money for nothing is evidenced in spam cycles, fake followers and promoted, irrelevant tweets. As we experienced personally, even a legitimate Twitter complaint about a customer service issue kicks off a process far less personal or meaningful than simply calling the pizza shop to complain.

Social media will prevail because its too powerful not to, but it has been slowed and at times discredited by manipulation and automation.

Mobile computing

As quickly as smart phones and then tablets became the norm, we re-sized the corporate website and jammed it into available real estate. Organizations wanted money for nothing from their ‘mobile channel’ without thinking through the customer’s circumstances and needs.

Early mobile sites were mostly unusable before Apple came along with the app concept. The benefits of mobility have been delayed several years by a delay in understanding what mobile could be.

Big Data and analytics

There are no shortage of companies starting up to provide big data analytics services and software to the unsuspecting customer that believes big data is Hadoop or someone’s tidy software package. We want big data to be money for nothing without considering the broader need for an iterative, constantly improving model for how we find and use data across our entire ecosystems in optimal and responsible ways.

The truth behind big data is that it takes a combination of capabilities that start at the lowest level, where you find and connect to information sources, to higher levels that allow your organization flexible and powerful options for listening and responding to your entire environment. This combination brings together most technology disciplines and isn’t something that happens overnight.


Loyalty has also been polluted by quick-hit programs designed to sign up customers without creating relationships that keep those customers coming back. Loyalty’s money for nothing is the plastic card and the email coupon based on accumulated points.

We’ve gone through the discount era, the ‘we’re your friend’ era and are moving into the time where loyalty is driven by unique products and services delivered in personalized ways.

Money for something

Real value is created when organizations put a stake in the ground that is deliberate and represents an investment. Building for the long term, especially as the Internet matures and people become less susceptible to foolish schemes, is the way to build a business. Like most things in life, return comes from effort and focus and not from any quick, clever trick.

For example:

  • Great SEO comes from having good quantities of fresh, quality content
  • Social media success comes from making and maintaining strong connections
  • Mobile success is connected to stepping out of the desktop/big screen box with powerful back end capabilities
  • Actionable analytics come from a well-thought strategy to connect, understand, anticipate and act
  • Loyalty requires up-front investment in knowing the customer that may not pay off in the short-term but will pay off in repeat business

Anything less is chasing the bright shiny object and hoping for money for nothing. While the Internet turns twenty soon, the principles that make business work, online or in traditional ways, haven’t changed much at all. Money for something comes from being the first, not the ‘me too’, and it comes from creating real value for customers, not from questionable schemes.


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Categories: Data Analytics / Big Data, Innovation, Loyalty, Mobility, Social / Collaboration

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

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