The internet is rapidly changing how all of us do business. The very fact that you are reading this on your computer is a good example of that. While there are many attributes of the internet to be lauded, the easy access to it can create problems.
We have devoted a lot of time to the development of our website. We try and provide enough content on our site to give web browsers a good feel for the magazine in the hopes that they will subscribe. The information we make available online is free. We apply the same standards to the information we post on the web as we do to the articles we put into print in the magazine. We take great pains to assure the content on our website is accurate and serves the needs of the sea kayaking community.
For the past 24 years Sea Kayaker has worked hard to develop and maintain a reputation as a reputable and ethical source for people seeking information on the sport of sea kayaking. We seek out the most knowledgeable contributors and our staff has background in all aspects of kayaking— from kayak design to rescue techniques. Editing content for the magazine and the website doesn’t just happen at the computer, it takes place on the water and in the workshop. We guard our reputation for reliability closely: it’s what keeps us in business. We’ve earned the trust of our readers and of the industry. Manufacturers regularly make improvements to their products based on our reviews and often come to us for pre-production testing. Reliability comes at a cost. We pay contributors for their services and our staff earns its keep by maintaining a high journalistic standard. That is the value of a responsible and reputable independent publication.
There are good magazines and not-so good magazines in print, but the cost of going to press and the pressures of the market place do thin the herd. If the publication doesn’t have some merit, it won’t last long. That’s not so much the case with the internet. The easy, inexpensive and increasingly widespread access to the internet makes it possible for anyone with access to a computer to get “into print.” It may not be ink, but the written word may convey some authority, if not just the illusion of authority, that was once the realm of books and magazines.
Websites created by publications or institutions that have earned their reputation the old fashioned way, on paper, may bring their reliability to the internet. The level playing field of the web also allows many people with good ideas to reach a wide audience. The democratization of information also makes it just as easy to distribute misinformation.
Message boards and forums
have created new forms of dialogue and conversations on the internet that are similar to conversations people have face-to-face. There can be an exchange of ideas or a wandering dialogue among friends; there can be gossip and mean-spirited rumors. Dialogue can be mutual and respectful or it can be dominated by a bully. On the internet the lack of face-to-face contact and the veil of anonymity can free someone from accountability. For those of us using the web for information it is critically important to consider the source before putting faith in what we read on screen.
We recently filmed and posted an on-line video
showing a manufacturer beating on one of his boats with a lead-shot-filled mallet. The video we posted on YouTube (the web host for the video) drew a number of comments from viewers, all but one identified only by on-line aliases, that suggested the kayak had been damaged during the demonstration. Two even identified a specific instant on the video where the damage was visible. This video, like most videos posted on the web, was not of sufficient resolution for anyone to make an accurate assessment of the condition of the kayak. I was astounded by the comments. I was the one filming the demonstration. I saw the boat and saw first hand that the beating did not damage the hull. How do I set straight someone who claims to see something that I know didn’t happen? I did not want incorrect information associated with our video so I posted my observations on YouTube with the video and suggested the manufacturer do the same. The comments made in this instance illustrate both the open dialogue provided by the Internet and the potential for misinformation. The manufacturer is rightly concerned about the damage the comments might cause to both reputation and business.
Most print publications now have websites and many host message boards and forums. Traffic on the web is trackable and the number of hits your website gets every day, week, month and year can be very appealing data for advertisers. Regrettably, this measurable index of quantity does not reflect upon quality. Inflammatory posts can drive up web traffic as much, if not more, than an informative post. Even our including here the URL for the video will increase the hits on it. We can always track the spikes on websites, but it is not so easy to know why they occur.
The internet provides a way for some entrepreneurs to create websites that will generate lots of traffic and appealing numbers to potential advertisers. Unfortunately, while the business revolves around concrete trackable numbers, the value of the website to those who visit it may be questionable. Active forums and messages boards can generate profitable numbers of website hits, but if there is no monitoring or review of the forums, the service provided by the website to the public may be of little value. It is important to keep online content in perspective.
The old axiom “You get what you pay for” doesn’t apply to much of the internet because much of the content is free and a lot of it is good. But you have to consider the source and sort out those who have worked hard to establish a reputation and those who are speaking off the cuff.