The Psychology of the Internet

No science fiction writer can be said to have predicted the internet. There were vague references to information networks but most saw it in terms of post-World War II era when computers were huge government and corporate monstrosities fed by teams in white coats. The decentralized form it took, fed by common folk from their homes and desks, evolved almost as soon as they connected their personal computers. Private individuals became personal brands in cyberspace.

There are distinctive approaches to branding: in traditional terms they would be

  • flyer
  • business card
  • club
  • directory

A flyer is given to build contacts with strangers. A club is a place where you are encouraged to make contacts with like-minded people. A card is something you give to someone you’ve contacted. A directory helps people find and contact you. You need all four methods. One can’t substitute for the other.

A club is a social network. Online versions can be chat rooms, hobby posts and forums, with social networking as the primary function. Business networking is regarded as a sort of by-product. The same was seen in traditional service and social clubs. You joined to see and be seen in the community. Those with a good social presence often got business deals as a by-product.

A business card website can be as flashy and inefficient as you like. It’s like a shopfront sign. Your fans are already in the neighbourhood. They already know you. They’ve sought you out. They want to be entertained or buy from you. They want to connect with you. Flash games, movies, picture galleries and QR codes even if they slow down the site may add to the attraction for the true fan.

 A directory website has to appeal to a completely different audience – an inhuman audience. They’re the search engine robots. Robots are maths equations. They can’t appreciate your artistry, humour or humanity. Graphics and games slow them down. They read text. A directory website is optimized for the search engines. Because the search engines are continually re-programmed to make better search experience a site that is well-designed for human traffic will usually appeal also to the search engines.

Flyers and any sort of push advertising are imposed on people. A small percentage response is regarded as good and can be sufficient to be effective. So we may focus on one or the other crowd and sacrifice the other or lead them to different sites. Tasteful and concise may appeal to some at the expense of others who will be attracted by garish and corny. For example, we’ve all seen conversational ‘copywriting’ that looks like this:


Do you wonder why I’m writing this way?

Well, it works. (with some folks)

Yes, that’s right.

Short narrow columns.

Two syllable words.

Folksy, populist appeals.

Special ‘today only’ deals.

Calls to action.

Blah, blah blah


This sort of copy-writing appeals to some audiences. If over-used it signals ‘this guy is trying to sell me something’. But many internet marketers still swear by it.

Some e-mail follow up is essential because one-to-one communication closes deals. But the low price of bulk email has resulted in legal sanctions against spam. So the e-mail ‘flyer’ has to follow on from the business card and directory form of contacts.

These are four very different psychologies. Together they make up the psychology of the internet. Most other methods can be described as variants of these four themes.