This post provides a synopsis on why the things you want are not on the Internet. If you’re after an actual guide to effective Google searching – finding those hard-to-locate goodies, please see How To Find Everything On The Internet.
Digital applause – the combination of Likes, Thanks, +1s, Favourites, Follows, positive comments and various other expressions of appreciation – is a major component in keeping the Internet free. Of course, it doesn’t keep the actual ISP service free. That’s always going to have to be paid for in one way or another. But the supply of accessible material – the photographs, articles, music, etc – a very high proportion of that is legitimately free, and it’s paid for in large part by digital applause.
When you go to Google Images and take for granted the God-knows-how-many-million pictures you can instantly access, it’s worth remembering that everything you find was put there by a real person. It’s not Google’s property. All Google does is finds it and gives it to you. Some of it originates from professionals and is being used for promotional purposes or has simply been stolen and proliferated. Some of it is the work of semi pro’s who monetise their websites and hope their pictures will attract visits from web surfers. But a huge chunk of it was created by ordinary people, whose motivation was not money, but to be appreciated. Those people are paid in digital applause.
I’ve looked at digital applause in different contexts in articles like Are You Posting Into a Black Hole? and Is WordPress on Life Support? But here I want to look at what happens to the Internet when people don’t take the time to click the +1 or Favourite buttons on forums or social sites, and when there’s too little expressed gratitude for the effort people put in.
I want to be clear, though, in stating that I’m not moralising about this. I’m not saying: “You should always click some sort of Thank You button every single time you gain something from the Internet”. That would make using the Web impractical. If you’re not part of a particular online community you probably won’t even have the means to show appreciation without signing up, and there’s only so much you can sign up to before it becomes unmanageable.
Equally, I know that even when you are signed up to a community, you can spend so long deliberating over what to endorse or what not to endorse, that you barely have time left to contribute anything of your own.
But the fact remains that if people who are providing useful matter for free don’t get any expressions of appreciation – even when they specifically go out of their way to help someone, THEY STOP PROVIDING. This isn’t speculation, it’s a fact. Analyse any networking or sharing site, or forum, and you’ll see that overwhelmingly, the people who quit posting are not the ones everyone keeps thanking, following and praising. They’re the ones with not enough followers and not enough feedback. Sometimes, there’s a ‘final straw’, in which the contributor encounters a clear indication that they’re NOT properly appreciated. I looked at this in How To Demotivate an Employee, but I’ve also experienced it myself…
I used to accept emails regarding the stuff on Planet Botch – particularly the free software I was making and the historical articles about musical instruments. I’d respond to help requests, and overall I spent quite a bit of time doing so. But eventually there were so many instances in which I’d given a considerable amount of help, only for the individual to disappear without as much as a simple “thank you”. Some requests would even be headed “URGENT”, like I was on a contract or retainer. It was almost like being an employee in some cases. That’s how some help-seekers made you feel.
So I sat down and considered in depth what good it was really doing me to offer free help. The people I was helping were rarely doing me any favours. They weren’t, for example, publicising the site any more than the average visitor, and most of the time, the information they wanted was already there on the site – they just couldn’t be bothered to find or read it.
So I stopped the whole thing dead. Removed the general contact facility and left everyone to their own devices. Any help requests coming through to the emergency contact inbox I completely ignored. Whilst the “URGENT: I need this information and I need it now!!!” emails were not difficult to dismiss, it wasn’t so easy with some of the more polite help requests. However, each time I saw a polite request, I thought about those characters who’d done the Mr Nice Guy “Please help me” thing, then taken up a load of my time, then not even had the decency to type one word: “Thanks”. That’s never going to happen again, I’d tell myself. And it hasn’t.
Worst of all, I would now actually recommend to any site or blog administrator the idea of ignoring visitors’ requests. Shares of my posts actually went UP after I stopped replying to emails – mainly because people couldn’t get the info they wanted from me, so they took their questions to forums and either linked to my posts themselves, or someone linked to the info in one of my posts in the response! Fantastic – you stop helping people and get an immediate benefit! You have more time, more backlinks – you’re laughing. It was then that I realised why Google are so hard to get in touch with.
But of course, in a wider sense, this prevalent attitude of: “I’ve got what I want – who cares about saying thanks?” does damage the supply of valuable free material to the World Wide Web. People do close down sharing accounts and websites when they feel like they’re being trodden on. But the main thrust of the damage is in future posts which never arrive. Posts from the people who intended to add loads more information and media to a forum, but after being treated like some sort of free doormat service they thought: “Actually, why bother?” The people who were going to post three hundred historically valuable photos on a sharing site, but got as far as posting ten, got 500 views, no Likes, and thought: “Sod it! What’s the point?”.
So yeah, go onto Google and take what it gives you. But those times when you can’t find what you want, just remember that it’s not because the information or the media doesn’t exist. It’s because too many people take and consume without paying back a moment’s gratitude. That’s not going to change. It’s human nature in the first place and the impersonal Internet exacerbates it further. Ultimately, though, no one ever does anything for nothing. I’m not saying run yourself into the ground expressing appreciation for everything you ever see. But if you’re going to ask for stuff, and put people to trouble, and then be too rude even to acknowledge their help, you really can’t be too surprised when you end up having to pay for what you want the next time.