Transparency is So 2008

by Mike Phillips, Senior Editor - Website Magazine

This article appeared in Website Magazine's June 2009 issue. Get monthly issues of Website Magazine by upgrading to a professional level subscription.

The term has gained buzz-word status since its dawn during the rise of Web 2.0: Transparency. It refers to the idea that we should be completely open about what we do. Our content should be syndicated freely throughout the Web and the inner workings of our businesses should be bare for all to see. Even President Obama is on the transparency bandwagon, calling for some of the darkest secrets and inner workings of the U.S. government to be open to the public, even the world.

But all fads come to end. All buzz words eventually become tired relics of the past. And transparency is no different.

We work extremely hard to create quality content and products for the Web. As we near a new decade on the Web, it's time to tighten up.

You might find yourself spending hours creating a stellar blog post. Then you submit your content to every bookmarking service and social site you can find. You might enjoy a spike in the day's website traffic, and perhaps make a few bucks from the resulting clicks on your contextual or display ads. But too often uninspired professionals resort to adapting another's content and calling it their own. And just because this individual has more "friends" or "followers," or their website has more incoming links, you - the creator of the content - become an afterthought. It happens all the time. You lose the traffic, revenue, incoming links, and acknowledgement that is rightfully yours. We're also left with an Internet choked with old, re-hashed ideas.

We all share a common goal. We want to establish our brands as the best in the business. And there might be no better way to evoke authority than scaling back on transparency.

Why not require a commitment on the behalf of your users for the content or products you create? Consider requiring registration to your website and erecting subscription walls before a user can access the best content and features. If you spend hours of research writing a professional-level paper, why not charge a small fee for it?

The resulting revenue from a whitepaper could far exceed anything earned by a 2 percent click-through rate on AdSense ads. Leads generated from site registration could result in recurring sales. Furthermore, you establish an elite community of loyal followers. They have made a commitment to your brand. And you can bet they will come back to get their money's worth.

As the old saying goes, "the cream always rises to the top." If you dedicate your business to producing products and content of the highest quality, consumers will come. And there's absolutely no reason you should not be compensated for your time and efforts. For some businesses, it might be difficult to adopt a new philosophy. In fact, it's probably unwise to take an existing, free product and suddenly start forcing registration or charge a fee. But maybe there's room for an "exclusive" section of your website. Maybe that great new idea you've been working on is an excellent candidate to start charging right from inception.

Let's be clear: In no way does any of this mean practicing deception. There are instances where transparency is vital. For a merchant, it might mean explicit and easy-to- find return and exchange policies. For bloggers it could be making our readers aware that we are being paid for the content we write. In any case, in those situations where a user might feel deceived, transparency is needed. So we're left with a hybrid of exclusive content and open knowledge.

For those who must have a buzz word to go along with trends, maybe it's time we start talking about "opacity."