It’s something this blog has been banging on about for years now and something the authorities in at least one state are now trying to do something about.
It’s complex, confounding and downright contradictory. And it’s happening on a web browser near you.
It is of course the digital marketing industry – probably the most complex and fragmented industry since the IT industry that predominantly spawned it.
It’s an industry brimming with self-proclaimed gurus espousing how the latest online marketing technique will change your business forever. And of salespeople from pretty much the world over bugging you to sign up to their web marketing program whilst making more promises than a desperate politician.
But now the resistance to it is getting louder and louder.
Help is on its WA
A number of organisations in Western Australia have combined resources for an initiative called Digital Roadmaps. This program aims to assist smaller businesses, particularly retailers, develop and implement eCommerce systems and strategies.
In turn, some industry purveyors have started a resource website called Widelines in an attempt to provide some guidance to an increasingly frustrated business market.
So how has it got to this? Why is it that there are so many unqualified and disparate businesses trying to coerce you into signing up with them? And why is it so hard to get a straight answer on everything from search engine optimisation to social networking?
Fast technology, slow regulation
Like a range of other issues brought about by fast-moving technology, the issue of irregularity and unaccountability is due to the fact that technology moves much faster than the regulators will ever be able to. Normal business practices are often found to be wanting and inappropriate to an industry without borders and the protections they typically bring.
Yes, much like the topical supplements industry certain sports people and organisations are currently embroiled in, the innovators are bringing product into the market faster than authorities can examine and classify it. And technologies like the web exacerbate its passage into immature and largely unsuspecting markets.
I applaud any initiative that will assist businesses in making the right choice of digital supplier while cleaning up a growing cowboy element that is tarnishing the industry.
One initiative that is bound to cut through a swathe of complaints has its roots in the franchising industry.
Disclosure a critical factor
Through much painful trial and error, the franchising industry is now highly regulated to ensure due diligence in an industry previously devoid of it.
A key component of its regulation is a ‘disclosure document’ in which franchisors must provide key details of their operations so as franchisees can make an open and thorough examination of its practices.
Such a document, particularly with regards web and mobile sites, would go a long way towards empowering business customers to properly manage their now critical online assets.
The document could outline aspects like domain name ownership, technology platforms and languages, maintenance details, replacement providers, maintenance and development cost guarantees, copyright details and many more details that most business owners are not privy too – despite their ownership of the finished result (or at least much of it).
A mandatory document for any digital asset
If not mandated by digital industries, regulation could ensure that such a document accompanied the completion (and potentially the beginning) of any web or mobile site.
It would mean that in the event of an issue with the incumbent provider, the business operator has all the information they need to either seek recourse or find an alternative provider. Or approach an alternative firm for future iterations of the online asset.
Initiatives like this would not only be invaluable to business customers, but would go a long way towards cleaning up an industry that sorely needs it.
Whilst many in the industry would recoil at what they might see as a bureaucratic and expensive impost, it may be the regulation they have to have to ensure their own survival and longevity.
What are your experiences with digital providers? What ideas do you have to help organise and regulate the digital industry?
Craig Reardon is a writer, educator and operator of independent web services firm for SMEs, The E Team.