It’s often said people don’t appreciate things they can get for free. Another way of looking at this is that it is difficult to determine its value if you don’t pay for something. With the cost of sending emails or getting contacts in social media virtually zero, does it mean it is harder to get value from them? Should we start to pay for contacts and messages?
Do you remember the time when there was just a landline phone at home? Or when you received letters through the mail? When your phone was ringing, someone definitely answered the call and actually took the call seriously. When you got a letter with your name and stamp on the envelope, it was something you wanted to open and read. Now you get robocalls that use VoIP, making them really cheap. You get a lot of emails, most of which you don’t even open or read.
How about social network contacts? You can send LinkedIn or Facebook invitations to almost anyone, and many people accept invitations from people they don’t know. One could say this has made people better connected and made the world more democratic. Earlier you could have tried to get into an exclusive club and use your contacts to help to arrange an important new introduction. But how much value do your social media contacts actually produce? Not much, and less each day, I would argue.
In an earlier article, I wrote how many social networks had become spamming networks. It’s great that prices go down and more people get access to networks and opportunities. But this also has its side effects. Everything becomes too crowded, and everyone tries to use them for their own purposes. When connections, communications and transactions have minimal or zero cost, people don’t consider using them properly. It leads to a situation where those networks and tools offer less value. It’s a bit like a government starting to print a lot of money. The money loses value, and then you can’t afford to buy things with it.
Would this change, if we had to pay for contacts, messages and transactions? Most probably. It doesn’t mean they should be so expensive that it starts to limit who can use the tools significantly, but it would make people think about what they are doing. Maybe people would start to appreciate more the contacts they have and the messages they receive.
It doesn’t really matter to the users what technology makes transactions payable, but the user experience matters. To get this to work, very simple micro-payments are needed. At the moment, it looks like blockchain and tokens are the strongest candidates to change business models of messaging and social networking services.
This is something that has been talked about since the 2017 ICO boom. The missing piece has been workable, effective end-user services, not just concept ideas. It is not realistic to think that totally new communications tools would replace the existing ones. New solutions to better manage contacts and messages should work, for example, with the existing email and messaging services.
One can also claim that people are not ready to pay for these commodities they have always had for free. And not all people will be ready to do it immediately, but people are happy to pay for things that make their life better, help them with daily tasks and give them greater status. There are many signs that people are now looking for better privacy and control of their data and activities, and security is also becoming more important.
People have always been willing to pay for exclusive clubs. They have been willing to pay for dinners with top politicians and celebrities. If someone you don’t know wanted to message you, you would be more interested in looking at the message if you know they had paid for it, and it was not one of the thousands of ‘free’ messages. If a user only accepted ‘paid’ messages, it would cut down the level of spam, too. Good contacts and important messages are premia, not commodities.
We will soon see services where people pay for messages, not for all messages, but some of them, e.g. to reach new contacts. We will also start to see services where people will have to pay for contacts, and they will have to give serious thought to which contacts they really want to invest in. But these services will need to offer the same usability as chatting, social media and email today. This concept could become one of the first big use cases for blockchain and tokens.