What parts of the Internet would you pay for?

If every site cost you something, what would you pay for?

The web is full of free content in a way the world never was before. Most newspapers, magazines and books weren’t free. It’s hard to trust a magazine that’s free. Think about the ones you can get on way into a movie theatre. They’re too full of corporate interests to be taken seriously.

And yet that has become our de facto standard now. Free content. Free services. Even the good magazines are free.

In exchange, we are participants in the world’s largest marketing optimization experiment. A/B testing a physical billboard is not easy. Tailoring print magazine ads so the reader only sees things they’re already actively thinking about buying is not easy. Now, we’re learning how to manipulate the buying habits of the entire human race at once.

That may sound like I’m against it. But I don’t really have a dog in this fight. On the upside, defending against an onslaught of marketing bullshit is a good life skill and the better the marketers get, the stronger our collective defences get. The better consumers we become, the better technology has to become to impress us. There are upsides.

So regardless of which side you’re on, it’s an interesting war.

Imagine, however, we become so immune to online advertising that it devalues to below its cost. Imagine the web takes a turn, most of the “free” content goes away, and every business operating online takes a different approach — everything is paid, and you can only access what you pay for.

In that scenario, what what you pay for?

What I’d Pay For

Google Search, you would think, is invaluable. You would certainly pay for that. But would you? Keep in mind everything you found would be behind a paywall, so, really, what’s the point? Google would have to be very different.

Wikipedia, then. That one’s pretty solid. I’d certainly pay for that.

Google Maps would be a must-have, assuming you live in a town where some of the streets are unfamiliar or you like to travel.

iMessage is an interesting one. Does it add enough over normal SMS to pay for? I would say no. I turned it off when “stickers” became a thing and I haven’t really missed it.

Spotify I already pay for, so that’s a yes.

There’s a whole bunch of online backup services. File syncing like Dropbox, a photo service like Flickr or Google Photos, and you phone’s automatic backups. You may already pay for some of those. I use the free versions and would likely revert to local manual backups if I had to pay any sizeable amount for the basics.

Weather forecasts? Well we sorta already do because the Weather Office is government funded. Shoutout to the always-more-accurate weather.gc.ca.

Online management of existing services like your bank, heating, and phone service? You could say they should be free but if that’s the case, they’re baking those costs into your service charges so you’re paying for it now.

YouTube? That’s a yes, if only for learning things.

A newspaper? You’d probably subscribe to a major national and/or a local paper.

Then some interest-publications. A tech site, a car site, a recipe site or two.

Snapchat? Instagram? Facebook? Twitter? It’d be interesting to see how they’d be different on a paid internet. I don’t think the user bases would ever have grown big enough to make them fun enough to be worth paying for.

Eventually you’d end up with a smaller stable of sites with minimal advertising.

Doesn’t sound too bad, really.

So here’s the experiment: try for a while to only use what you’d actually be willing to pay for, even if you don’t have to pay for it. Everything else, purge from your mind grapes and see if you really miss it.