What is the economics of the Internet?

The economics of the Internet are exploited to change public perception—and sell product.

The economics of the Internet created a twisted set of incentives that make traffic more important—and more profitable—than the truth.

Blogs are built to be sold. Though they make substantial revenues from advertising, the real money is in selling the entire site to a larger company for a multiple of the traffic and earnings. Usually to a rich sucker.

Blogs are built and run with an exit in mind.

Most of these figures are not public, but a decent account can hope to make about one penny per view, or one dollar for every thousand.

Something that isn’t shared isn’t worth anything.

Being final, or authoritative, or helpful, or any of these obviously positive attributes is avoided, because they don’t bait user engagement. And engaged users are where the money is.

Would you also be surprised to hear that the content of the video was designed around popular search terms? And that the title went through multiple iterations to see which got the most clicks? And what if the video you watch after this one (and the one after that and after that) had been recommended and optimized by YouTube with the deliberate intention of making online video take up as much time in your life as television does?

The idea that the web is empowering is just a bunch of rattling, chattering talk. Everything you consume online has been “optimized” to make you dependent on it. Content is engineered to be clicked, glanced at, or found—like a trap designed to bait, distract, and capture you. Blogs are out to game you—to steal your time from you and sell it to advertisers—and they do this every day.

Entire companies are now built on this model, exploiting the intersection between entertainment, impulse, and the profit margins of low-quality content. What they produce is not so much information but genetically modified information—pumped with steroids and hormones.

If it was once about spreading the word, now it’s as much about stopping the spread of inaccurate and damaging words.

Blindsided by the bad publicity, the rival hires a firm to protect itself—and then to strike back. Thus begins an endless loop of online manipulation that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And that’s the easiest of the PR battles a company may have to face.

Humor is an incredibly effective vehicle for getting pageviews and spreading narratives.

--Ryan Holiday