You find a website and click on it. It takes a few seconds to load. You accept the cookie consent. Before you can blink a special offer pops up. You close the offer. Already a bit annoyed you start scrolling the page, and then a newsletter subscription box pops up. You close it. You continue browsing and click on something that interests you. Once again it takes a few seconds to load. The special offer pops up again. Your patience is up and you try close the page. As soon as your mouse get's to the top of the page another popup appears asking you to stay and consider another special offer.
Unfortunately this is not a parody. This is how the web has been for more than a few years now. You can consider yourself lucky that you did not have to fill in a survey or watch some ads in the process.
It all reminds me of a store employee that won't let you just look around. I want my space. I want to browse on my own terms.
As with most things, it all started with good intentions. All those popups and offers are features. Each of them took many development hours to implement. But they add up to something beyond annoying.
Why do websites keep investing in this? Because it works. Most people are enticed by that 5% discount, or buy today for limited availability offers. It is basic marketing.
It is like walking through a dirty market in Thailand and being constantly approached by every merchant. At some point you are going to give in and buy those fancy sunglasses for a few dollars.
Do you like to be sold something? Does anyone?
I think this is a combination of growing competition and limited technology. Just as in the market, users have little choice for how to interact with the web. Websites try to deliver a unique experience but are limited by the technology. Even with all those features they are still so static, so generic.
Users have already accepted that browsing through multiple websites of almost the same content is a normal experience. Same as businesses have accepted the rules and do their best to beat the competition. It is a market. These are rules. Same as that dirty tourist market has rules. And you are only a visitor.
All of those features are meant to enhance your abilities on the web. But at which point do they start hurting the experience? I like to get a discount as much as the next person. But what if I don't want to be harassed by every merchant in the market?
Besides the experience, current web does not really let me evaluate my options fairly. I am relying on my patience to browse the search engine results, do my due diligence and make the best choice based on my research. It is time consuming.
Imagine that you met a guide in front of that Thailand market. A guide that could tell you the prices and tricks of each merchant. He would know both the little details and the big picture of the market. He could answer any questions you have and give you a fair overview of everything you are looking for.
If you wanted to buy something specific, would you still want to go into the market and find out for yourself?
My hope is that AI can serve as that guide in front of the market.
Instead of me trying to figure it out on my own I would have a reliable guide.
It wouldn't be me going to that web page. It wouldn't be me that you can show your promotions. It wouldn't be me that you are trying to sell something to. Instead it would be my AI guide.
My AI guide is not as emotional, or impulsive, or impatient as I am. It is not likely to fall for that .99 pricing trick. It is more rational than that.
Instead of me trying to decipher what you are trying to sell, I would be able to look at the information on my own terms. Making better decisions by eliminating emotion, biases and intentionally confusing presentation.
Whenever I need something from the web my AI guide would go through all of the websites, compile the information and present it to me in the way I choose. In just a few seconds it could give me a nice summary or an image, or provide some links, or an analysis which can help me choose. It could simply give me the best choice.
And the best part is that I wouldn't be talking to that salesman up for a promotion. I would be talking with my own personal assistant who truly has my interest in mind.
I would be able to set my own playing field.
By setting our own rules we might also partially eliminate the useless energy wasted in building the existing ones.
Websites have come a long way since the early days of digital newspapers. Countless external libraries, images, fonts, tracking scripts, popups, connected services and styles. Each one tailored for that one specific feature to take you over the top of your competition. There are personalization services that learn about your behavior and supposedly help you find what you are looking for. In other words - it is another way to feed you the sale.
The current web is the same as that market, it is the same for everyone. It can't adapt to the user. It can't deliver anything truly personal.
In a way we are trapped in that dirty market.
The market will always need the merchants. But do we need to keep walking the same alleys every time we want something?
Instead of shameless sales tactics merchants should focus on providing a quality product. Something that a user would want to buy even without all of the digital hypnosis.
I envision the next generation of web consisting of personal AI assistants and data interfaces (APIs). You can think of APIs as store catalogs. AI assistants would be able to use the information to guide you. Since AI would have the information of the whole market in it's mind, it would be able to tailor the best choice. Specifically for you.
In essence, AI would replace the traditional search box and act as your personal web browser. You decide how it gives you the information, how detailed, and in what form.
You could ensure that AI is aligned with your own values. Perhaps you want to buy only from environmentally conscious brands, or you want only vegan materials, or you want to support only local businesses. You would have a much easier time finding the perfect match.
There would still be websites. Paid services and content that users visit for unique value that AI can't give them.
There is a big difference if you write something to get traffic, or if you write something because you want it to be read.
Websites trying to chase traffic should fade away. They should have never existed in the first place.
Genuine writing will still have a place in the web. Platforms like Medium would prosper because they would provide genuine and unique content. The reading material should be much higher quality because people would come here to read, not to be sold something.
It would not be cost efficient to compete with AI in the public realm. Newsletters and paid content portals would grow. Building an audience would be more important than legacy SEO.
Businesses would transition away from SEO as we know it. Instead they would compete by providing a better product, by providing more value.
If your product has value AI would be capable to help your audience find you.
As a business you could still provide discounts, you could still provide affiliate programs, you could still do all the pricing strategies. Only the interface would be different. Instead of directly playing the customer, you would first have to play with AI.
It is my hope that this takes away the scammy part of selling something. You might be able to fool the customer by changing prices, or making up complex rules. But you won't be able to fool AI. AI can see you and all your competitors at the same time. You would not be able to hide.
In many ways AI might even educate the consumers. Instead of sending something over the whole world, why not buy a similarly priced locally sourced alternative?
As AI becomes more and more aligned with human goals and values I think it might challenge what we think is normal now.
Do we really want to keep spending our limited earth resources to ship some random things all over the world?
Amazon was a great achievement for early 21st century. But it is built on unsustainable practices and perhaps is not needed in an advanced society.
What if you don't have the best product or value?
Capitalism is survival of the fittest. What are you doing to improve? If you are not willing to improve then you will fail. Every business should have some type of idea of what makes them worth their customers time or money. Focus on that.
As tech evolves the playing field keeps changing. The world is becoming even smaller. By AI on the side of every customer you won't be able to hide the fact that you are not actually the biggest or the cheapest, or any other slogans you used to attract naive customers. Your goal has to be true. You need to offer value.
For the most part competition is still subjective. Can you really say which is the best development agency? Or who is the best musician to hire? Or who provides the highest quality wood? There will always be something subjective coming from the reviews of existing customers, or the values of the company, or the requirements and preferences of the specific job.
The competition will become more fierce. Unlikely me, my AI assistant will be able to check every detail about every merchant and that should raise both the expectations and quality of everything.
I will still have the final word and being able to play in my home court will help me make a better choice.
The state of the current web is begging for a change. Current experience is barely tolerable. Content is made for the wrong reasons. Chasing traffic and the next sale is more important than delivering value. And AI content is making things exponentially worse.
We have the most revolutionary tech since the iPhone, potentially since the web. It would be very sad if it was used to continue filling the dirty market with more of the same.