Is Web a Store or a Library?

By eweek  |  Posted 2001-07-30 Print this article Print

According to the Markle Foundation's report on its yearlong study of thousands of U.S. users, titled "Toward a Framework for Internet Accountability" (available at, "the leading metaphor for the Internet, in the public's

According to the Markle Foundations report on its yearlong study of thousands of U.S. users, titled "Toward a Framework for Internet Accountability" (available at, "the leading metaphor for the Internet, in the publics mind, is not a shopping mall or banking and investment office but, rather, a library." Perception is reality, of course, and if thats the way most Internet users see things, so be it. Those users have a number of other perceptions as well, according to the study.

For example, they say the Internets lack of governance bothers them. They say theyre worried about the accessibility of pornography and violent content, the lack of privacy rules and the lack of channels for the remedy of complaints. At the same time, theyre not so concerned about virus infections, Web services standards, content ownership issues and technologies.

Another finding: The popularity of the Internet is unaffected by the dot-com implosion. Users may have enjoyed the biblical justice of dot-comeuppance, but researchers found no significant change in the favorability rating of the Internet between June of this year and a year ago. But users do care about the accuracy of the information they find: The majority of users seriously doubt what they see on the Internet. On the Internet, believability is therefore a core competitive advantage—and, once lost, its expensive or impossible to regain.

Users also care about online accountability and about their ability to protect themselves against invasion of privacy or abuse of personal information. Lacking clear and believable statements of Web site privacy policy, users will assume the worst. This means you should be candid and offer rewards to users who provide valuable marketing data so they retain a sense of being in control.

It also seems that many users, lacking a resident teenager, dont know who can help them with online problems. So its clear the most successful sites will provide the largest variety and the highest quality of interactive support.

Further, Internet users feel the absence of normal social cues, such as the general character of a retail establishments neighborhood and the appearance and behavior of other customers, as a means of establishing comfort. To fill this need and craft an online presence that stands out from the pack, we recommend offering customer comment forums and links to independent rating sites. These are the facilities that turn visitors into buyers and first-time buyers into long-term e-business customers.

We welcome studies like that of the Markle Foundation—and so should you. Transforming the Internet from a library to a store will be a recurring task of successful e-businesses.


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