This past weekend, I was a substitute at my twin brother's summer gathering called The North South -- an annual golf event with his closest college fraternity brothers. The weekend called for two houses in the beach town of Avalon , N. J. to house seven fraternity brothers, their wives, and the 17 children collectively spawned by this close-knit group of friends.
Friday evening is traditionally when the South team and the North team match up lineups, argue over handicaps and welcome those caught in traffic with warm hugs and cold beers. Keith and his wife Allison were the last to arrive this year, along with their three towheaded children Jack, Kate and Matthew. As they poured out of the car, all of us on the deck above looked down and waved, while our eyes focused on the surprise guest sporting cornrows: a three-year-old girl named Anari, smiling ear-to-ear.
We quickly learned she had been dropped off earlier that afternoon at her new foster parents' house, and was immediately told she was going on a road trip to the beach three hours away with her new temporary family to meet a house full of strangers.
In a matter of minutes after entering the house, Anari stood up on a wooden swivel stool with one hand clutching the back for support, and announced to the mothers in the room huddled around her that it was in fact her birthday. Word spread quickly; in less than 60 seconds a cupcake was found, a candle was lit, and a crowded room of strangers sang "Happy Birthday" to an orphan who had won their hearts instantly and brilliantly.
Over the next two days we learned from Anari it was her birthday again. We learned from Keith and Allison that Anari has two siblings she may be reunited with if a pending adoption comes through -- and we all learned how this positive energy could lift everyone's heart in its vicinity.
I selfishly needed to write about this unique experience with a little girl I met for the first time, picked up and hugged as if I had known her forever, and will never see again. But I am asked to write about the online publishing business, so here is my bridge to a point worth considering.
Trust is all that binds us. Consider the trust the foster care organization has with Keith and Allison to care for their precious inventory; the trust they in turn had in the families they visit with once a year to welcome this child as if she were one of their own; and the trust Anari had for a room full of strangers that her need to be recognized and celebrated would be met, and the ploy she used to acquire this enhanced attention would be ignored.
Trust that is true rewards everyone attached to either end. It's the ultimate win-win. As an industry of online publishing, we are hemorrhaging trust. Users are figuring out more and more everyday that "publishers of online content" cannot be trusted to protect users' rights to privacy.
This privacy issue is not going away -- but "we" will, if we don't take this issue head-on. The critical mistake online publishers are making is that "we" think we are necessary. We're not. Over 50% of the time consumers spend online is spent using the Web to communicate with one another -- not to read our content. Gaining consumer trust is imperative to nourishing and growing the thin slice of online attention our business depends upon. Failure to do so will be catastrophic.
To do that, online publishers must end all their relationships with ad networks. These third-party companies that habitually lie to publishers and advertisers are the dominant reason why users are being tracked to death. If publishers divorce themselves from these third-party relationships, they can gain back the ability to control how they treat the trust of their users.
What would it sound like to users if publishers made it clear that any tracking that can occur on their site would be limited to one company -- and only if the user has granted permission to do so? Would users trust that site more or less?
When publishers agreed to take in ad dollars not sold by their own sales force, they lost their ability to protect the trust of their users. It's time to take it back.
Speaking of time, it's Thursday -- which means it's likely Anari's birthday again.
Happy birthday sweetheart, wherever you are.