The IT Not the IOT (Internet Thing not Internet OF Things

By definition I’m not a digital native I’m a digital immigrant. But I’ve been of the internet as long as I can remember. Mary McKenna and I were talking recently on her visit to Federation House and bemoaning the fact that so many professional folk we know don’t really understand the internet. Like she and I google things probably on average a 100 times a day. We weren’t being data nerds but that’s probably a good average.

Mary on her recent visit to The Federation

When the internet is literally part of your neurological pathway you just have no empathy with or understanding of how the majority of people think or behave. When you are of the generation of The Web is Agreement you simply don’t or haven’t thought about the others — those whose lives and agency are being stripped away each search by internet search.

The brilliant visual created by Paul Downey in the early days of our netthusiam

So this is the tale of the Internet Thing not the Internet OF Things. The thing that is silently and without notice reshaping the lives of others in a way that they don’t or can’t comprehend. It’s the world of Google Ads vs Check a Trade so let me explain.

For ten years in London Tony and I were fortunate to have built a relationship with two amazing builders Pete and Richard. They built us a garden room. They knocked down walls. They damp proofed. Anytime we needed something electrical, plastery or buildery — well it was let’s call Peter and Richard. But when you move to a new place where you know nobody what do you do? You don’t have friends or neighbours you can consult with so enter Check A Trade. Amazing service on the internet. There are reviews from real people. They do insurance and CBR checks and all their certifications are verified AND there are photographs of past work. SWEET.

Every single tradesperson we’ve booked from the site have been brilliant but I never thought about asking them about their experience with the site until this week when we had an amazing tradesperson visit our house to sort out a problem. He was punctual, diligent, professional and dealt with our issue to our complete satisfaction. When he finished the job he pulled a form (paper) out of his files and said “would you mind filling this out and posting it to Check a Trade with your comments and observations”.

Now as internet folk we thought “how quaint” — post something to an online service? But then you think of course lots of clients won’t be online or able to post a review. So we got chatting as you do and asked him how do you find Check A Trade?

He told us how he set up as a Sole Trader a year ago. That’s an important emphasis on SOLE (small, local and limited in scale). He advertised on Google and for two weeks he was on the front page. And then they rang him and said if he wanted to stay on the front page well he’d have to pay more — and paying more every week to stay on the front page would cost him circa £5,500 per year in advertising costs.

Let’s put that in context in 2014 Facebook paid £4,327 in Corporation Tax in the UK that’s £1,173 LESS than this sole trader would pay in advertising to stay on the front page of Google.

So he thought “well I won’t be doing that”. Then he found Check A Trade — that costs him £89.00 per month and he is reasonably happy with the pipeline it’s producing. And what’s great for us as consumers is that he said if we submit a review online it won’t be published until Check A Trade calls or emails us to verify we are who we say we are and were truly happy with the service. And that is really good — but there is another side.

He had one customer book him in for an appointment which she then cancelled. But she still went on the site and gave him a terrible review for work he had not even done. On that occasion he was able to supply the text messages to Check A Trade to prove the job had been actually cancelled. When the women was asked by Check A Trade why did she write the fraudulent review she replied “ I was annoyed and bored I just wanted to”. On that occasion there was no impact but on another occasion he had’nt saved proof of cancellation and change of booking when he was accused of being late when in fact he was on time. So his great score of 10/10 reduced to 9.75 and he’s not quite sure how to get it back up to 10.

He talked about having a free listing on Google and some stuff on Bing — when clearly as all us internet folk know — that’s all codology — if you are not on the front page of search — and since it ALL starts with search — then if you are not there then you are literally nowhere.

As I watched him pack up his tools and head out to his next job I started thinking please lets forget about Internet of Things — this man lives in the Internet Thing — a silent, unseen, unknowable universe of controlling interests who remove his agency, who determine his pipeline, who can traduce his reputation if they are bored or vindictive.

And he has no clue that what was the web of agreement is now the web of agency. The silent, unseen thing that determines his livelihood, his finances and his future. I didn’t tell him that I work in technology, that I know the internet because I just couldn’t face telling him the truth. I did tell him to continue working with Check A Trade because I think over time it can build an alternative.

But I did think long after he was gone — this is not the traditional notion of displacement that we think about — software doing a job that a human once did. But technology companies who are monopolies removing the power of what it once was to be a Sole Trader — in charge of your own destiny. Now reduced to someone who can, without the requisite economic power be removed from the internet or who can only stay in it if we as humans and consumers act as ethically as we should utilising our power in respectful and thoughtful ways.