When free and everything are the norm

Tripadvisor has made the news today for an unpleasant story about women behing sexually assaulted in hotels that are reviewed on the website. The article is missing a lot of important information, yet there are a couple of points worth making regarding web platforms and the type of expectations users have.

First of all, what we used to love about the internet (It’s free! You can find everything! Everybody has a voice! It’s freedom!) is gradually becoming more and more nuanced and problematic. People are increasingly asking for a different type of service, one that takes responsibility and action, a service that not only aggregates content, but also curates it and makes sure that it is of high quality on different levels. This is quite a huge reversal, and while I am not sure people really want the kind of restriction and control some are asking to counter the most sensitive problems, it is a growing demand that most internet-based services did not plan for.

Secondly, the very fact that services did not plan for this reverse makes them feel completely lost in the wake of similar requests. They lack this scenario from their DNA, and they are therefore extremely vulnerable. The “platform” mantra – according to which “we are just providing a platform to share content on, we are not responsible for the content itself” – is past obsolete by now. The attempt to respond by increasing the human control is often ineffective, partly because it is guided by the faint aspiration of addressing an emotional problem with rational tools. And artificial intelligence is demonstrating all of its current shortages when deployed to help in this area.

The way we look at internet-based service is clearly shifting. The shift is now driven mainly by extreme cases, that are often followed by extreme demands. There are huge gains available for the platform that will quit putting out fires and start planning for a long term scenario in which free, freedom, and everything are the norm, and the quality and humanity of the service (again, on various levels) will make a difference. I am extremely curious to find out who this player will be.

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