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The Coming Pax Digita
It’s a new day, yes…a Saturday edition of Down the Pipes! This weekender edition, unlike nearly all other editions, is free for the taking. If you like what you see, consider sharing or subscribing.
I’m back in Vegas for another conference, and the view from my Cosmopolitan bedroom is the Planet Hollywood sign, permanently stuck strobing the HO of “Hollywood.” Watching any sign glitch is fun, watching an enormous sign glitch is mesmerizing. The Boulevard Tower of the Cosmopolitan obscures the PLA of “Planet,” hence: net ho.
I’m also in Vegas for a conference called “Creator Economy Live,” an extension of Affiliate Expo, one of the largest conventions in the world for people making money off of people selling things to other people on the internet. It is a multi-billion dollar, ultra-professional middle man operation…these companies generally provide the technology that allows companies to track when someone buys something from a website.
You do know how affiliate marketing works, right? I know for a decent chunk of you who work in media or content or advertising this is going to be rote as hell, but I’ll keep it tight.
When you visit pretty much any website—but especially websites that offer product reviews, news articles, travel tips, or medical advice—almost every link that you click to a storefront or product page is going to place a bevy of tracking identifiers on your computer, so in the event you make a purchase, the publisher or creator who made the referral can receive a portion of sales from the store.
I’m not going to explain how tracking codes work technically, if you really want to know this article explains it pretty well.
But to greatly oversimplify, have you ever see a URL that seems like a sensible string of characters (IE, “downthepipes.co/about”) followed by a question mark and then an endless string of gibberish? (IE, “https://www.downthepipes.co/p/the-folly-of-our-generations?r=3dnxc&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web”)? That gibberish URL is feeding into a dashboard that allows me to see where my readers are coming from.
Now imagine doing that as an ecomm giant, like an Amazon. Except Amazon doesn’t just track where a customer came from, they track how much that customer spent and pay a percentage of that to the referring site, or the “affiliate.” There are billions of dollars up for grabs, it’s no wonder some of the best minds of my generation are wasted on figuring out ways to “optimize the conversion funnel,” which is code for making more content that drives more sales.
Making money on the internet is really, really hard, until it really, really isn’t. Sites like Defector (the defected staff of Deadspin’s blogger-owned sports blog) were able to blast out of the gate with thousands of paying subscribers by effectively passing around a digital hat in the digital equivalent of Washington Square Park. Most of you know that I once launched a $4.5m Kickstarter for a weighted blanket called the “Gravity Blanket,” in that particular instance we basically sold the idea of a product that we hadn’t even made yet.
Gravity wasn’t as wildly profitable as it sounds, running a business is still always racked with challenges. I’ll tell that story another time. But the point is, individuals making money appear on the internet is the new gold rush. It’s why 86% of kids consider “social influencer” a viable career path.
And it’s that “I” word, “influencer,” that makes this such an attractive proposition to marketers. If your audience trusts you, then your audience will buy from you. The more parasocial relationships you can create, the more your audience may be willing to try that new body butter or weighted blanket you can’t stop raving about.
The better sites and influencers will disclose that they’re a paid partner of a brand, as is insisted by FCC regulation. Even still, massive influencers are regularly fined for breaching that covenant, and many thousands more regularly get away with it.
What we’re seeing is social media’s swan song, a kind of blossoming of creative potential that the world has not truly known. The printing press changed the world because one person could spread ideas to many. The internet connected us to the ability to do that at a grand scale, but only until the maturation and saturation of social media was it accessible enough for anyone to harness. It's finally a personal printing press with free paper, ink, and subscribers for anyone who wants to pick it up.
A democratized media produced directly by society. A Creator Economy. We’re not prepared for that paradigm shift, it goes against every drip of order that we were conditioned to accept. We’ve already been living in it without fully accepting it, everything from Trump onward was the early stirring of a new media ecosystem discovering it’s own raw power.
Like a drunken William Randolph Hearst declaring war in Cuba through his front pages, social media can be used by anyone with enough willpower to manipulate minds and ultimately events. This is the worst impulse, but perhaps one of the most prevalent. The blooming of millions of reality distortion fields in our daily discourse, turning relatives into QAnon believers, friends into flat earthers, and reality TV into reality.
On the other hand, the massive unleashing of millions of newly minted creators is the potential beginning of true Digital Golden Age, a time for rapid advancement of thought, technology, and quality of life for everyone.
Pax Digita for the net hos.
The Latin on this isn’t perfect because digito is “I point,” but for an era that will be defined by our collective viewing of ourselves, maybe pointing at each other is fitting.
And don’t get me wrong, before the Renaissance was the Dark Ages, and given the amount of war, protest, power imbalance, racial and gender inequality, economic failures, climate disaster, and general societal mistrust, we’ve got more work to do. But more and more folks are waking up to this new, golden dawn. The more darkness out there that we uncover and bring to the light, the faster we’ll get there. Internet, ho!
Until next time.
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