I keep thinking of the various ways large Internet companies such as Google and Facebook try to provide “free” services while their real aim is to serve ads to people and make money. There is nothing wrong with trying to make money, but for me companies like Facebook represent everything that is wrong with the way ad-funded businesses are going about it. The constant erosion of privacy for anyone with a Facebook/Google/LinkedIn/etc account is well known.

Advertising is indeed important for businesses. But why this desire to be subversive just to try and serve ads? Why not have a few websites which are dedicated for advertising, and people can visit those sites when they are on the market for something? So in effect this would be “pull advertising” rather than “push advertising”. “Push advertising” is the equivalent of vendors nagging you on the street while you trying to go for a walk, which can be rather annoying. Or following you whenever you are out and about so that they can observe you and learn about your habits, and then fish out products which they think you might need or be interested in. Wouldn’t it be creepy if that happened in real life? That is how online advertising works currently.

Here is an alternative which I call “pull advertising”. Imagine a portal where businesses/individuals paid to advertise their products and services. When people want to buy something, they would do a search on this website, using various filter criteria such as location, and all relevant matches would be shown, including the current sale price. Customer clicks through and makes a purchase. Easy. No need to build “social networking” sites, tricking people into revealing things about themselves just to sell them washing machines, coffee machines etc. Just make the information available, and people will come and find it when they need it. Such a portal could be quite feature rich. Imagine a scenario where you had salespersons at the end of a video link. Just as one would walk up to a store assistant inĀ  a physical store, one could have a video chat with a salesperson who could clarify some product feature.

That raises the question: “How do new businesses advertise their products/services?” The answer to that would be user preferences. If a user were interested in knowing about new products/services in a certain category, they could subscribe to either receive push updates from a portal such as the above, or be shown these ads when they are interacting with the portal. In this way, online advertising will also be forced to be a bit more creative to attract people’s attention.

The answer is not ebay. ebay is the online equivalent of a car boot sale. I want the wide variety of stores (online and physical) that we have today, but a central place to compare the offering of various retailers, or discover new products. I guess I want the online equivalent of a trade fair.