Thirteen Guitars

The connotation of the term "Web 2.0" is that the Web is a piece of software in its second major version.  The term implies that there was a version 1.0 and that there will probably be a version 3.0. 

So I find myself wanting to ask the kind of questions I normally ask when I see a software product at version 2.0: 

  • What is the feature set of the current version? 
  • What are its known bugs? 
  • What can I expect from the next version?
  • When will the next version be available?

I could certainly respond to these questions by writing about some of the very positive things I see on the Web today.  The Web is incredible!  Remember back when the "What's New" page at NCSA was a listing of basically every site on the Web?  We've come a long way.  There are some amazing things happening in this version of the Web.

But right now I'm in a "glass half empty" sort of mood.  When I look at the state of the Web today, one big thing jumps out at me:  The defining characteristic of this version of the Web is the people who are ruining it.

This past weekend I was bidding on a guitar on eBay.  Shortly before the auction ended, I received email from the seller offering to end the auction early.  Believing that the seller was trying to do something unethical, I stopped bidding and somebody else won.  Only later did I realize that the email was actually sent by someone impersonating the seller.  The auction was apparently legit. 

Shortly after the auction ended, I received a "Second Chance" offer from the seller.  This time I was more discerning of the fraud.  Like the first one, this email was not really from the seller.

And then I received two more of these Second Chance offers.

And then in morning I got three more.

At last count, I have received email from 13 different people offering to sell me the guitar I did not win.  The laughable part of this story is that the manufacturer only made 12 of this particular model.  There are exactly 12 of these guitars on the planet and I've got 13 people offering to sell me one!  :-)

I didn't actually give money to any of the 13 crooks who tried to cheat me.  I'm not really upset about losing the auction.  What distresses me here is that these 13 people won, and the rest of us lost:

  • I lost the chance to buy the guitar I wanted.  [footnote 1]
  • The seller lost money.  I don't know if I would have won the auction or not, but the seller would have received a higher price than he did. 
  • eBay lost credibility.  Every time fraud shows up in the proximity of an eBay auction, eBay's reputation takes another hit.

I know I'm not the first one to be shocked and frustrated about the presence of evil in the world.  Maybe I'm just shouting at the rain, but sometimes a little shouting feels good, especially when this is just the tip of the iceberg.  There are many examples of fraud or vandalism on the Web today.  Here are just a few other obvious examples:

  1. For Google's advertising business, click fraud is out of control.  [footnote 2]
  2. For individual computers, viruses are out of control.  [footnote 3]
  3. For email, spam is out of control.  [footnote 4]

I could go on with more examples, but you get the idea.  The Web today is enormous.  It is used by hundreds of millions of people, perhaps billions.  A small percentage of those people are causing a lot of damage.

I feel sad.

It seems like the current version of the Web has a flaw.  In the real world, it is always easier to destroy than to build, but this disparity seems to be magnified on the Web.  People who are actively working to make the Web a better place are climbing uphill pulling a heavy trailer.  Meanwhile, the spammers and fraudsters are coasting in their convertible with the top down.  I hope the next version of the Web has some improvements in this area.

However, I don't have any solutions to offer right now.  I'm just having one of those moments where a realization is hitting me hard:  These "evildoers" are becoming the primary influencers of my experience on the Web today.  [footnote 5]

 

[1]  Yes, the auction was partly my fault.  If I were more experienced with eBay, I would have been less gullible and would have continued bidding.  Next time, I will know better, but that's still a workaround for the real bug.

[2]  I've read so many stories about click fraud lately that I don't know which one to link.  More and more, I hear people saying that they no longer run their AdWords on the content network.  We don't.  The content clicks were a major fraction of our AdWords spending, and we were getting no measurable value from them.

[3]  Yes, viruses pre-date the Web, but the Web has given them a more effective delivery vehicle.  BTW, three weeks ago I had to repave my machine because of a virus.  The Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT) offered to remove the virus, and I said yes.  Unfortunately, its concept of removing the virus is simply to remove all the files which are infected.  The MSRT could have saved me a lot of time by simply popping up a dialog box that said, "Your system is irretrievably fouled up.  Get some coffee, back up your files, and reformat the hard disk."

[4]  The guy who administers our network at SourceGear told me recently that less than five percent of the mail we receive is legitimate.  BTW, I think we need to stop saying that the spammers only continue because they make money doing it.  Virus writers don't make money.  They write viruses simply for the joy of causing harm to others.  I don't see much reason to believe that spam would stop if the financial incentive were magically removed somehow.

[5]  And who are these evildoers anyway?  Considering the enormous impact they have on the Web today, it seems wrong for them to be so invisible.  Why aren't they blogging?