Eric Peterson had a post on his Jupiter blog this evening which took issue with a petition proposing "Internet Advertiser Wakeup Day," in which folks are urged to generate bogus registrations at media sites such as The New York Times, LA Times, etc. on November 13th.
I kind of got a chuckle out of it; Eric was more affronted, pointing out that gathering minor demographic data is a small price to pay for content. The reasons for my chuckle are several. First, if I were The New York Times, for example, I would throw out the registrations on November 13th and get on with life. No great harm done. Second, I thought it was a pretty creative way to point out the problem with much of online behavior monitoring these days -- there's no clear tradeoff of value for the user.
When I first visit a number of newspaper sites, I have to put in my age and ZIPCode before I'm allowed to see the content -- for no clear additional benefit on my part. It isn't like I get stories tailored to my location or age group. This is exactly why people put in bad data -- and the petitioner is urging them to do so -- it adds a bit of a zing to an otherwise dull day.
Online enterprises have gotten so enthralled with visitor stats that they've forgotten people are behind them. People who are bored, busy, confused, and who aren't looking to buy the thingamabob the Web site is trying to cross-sell. If you strolled up to a person, asked them a bunch of questions, and refused to answer any questions in return, you'd be labelled a jerk or worse. Yet Web sites do that every day. Until Web sites concentrate on offering better service in return for customer information (Amazon.com is the classic example), they shouldn't be surprised if the humans at the keyboard don't "play by the rules."