Quality and The Internet

by Dr. Gordon D. Booth

The "Information Highway" is upon us. The flow of information is increasing at a rate that would have been impossible to predict just a few years ago. The internet has provided us with a vehicle by which we can communicate easily with others around the world--and we can do it almost instantaneously. The implications of this are tremendous, and the implications for quality are far-reaching.

Since the days of the first Guttenburg press, the process of publishing has been expensive. Initially, the only books that were published were already esteemed by a large number of people. Later, only those books that were expected to be purchased in fairly large numbers could be printed at a profit. Cost and profit drove the publishing business for centuries. Then, with the advent of the internet, things changed dramatically. No longer was the mass dissemination of the printed word limited to those who played by the rules of the publishing industry. Now it was possible for many people to print whatever they wanted--for very little cost. There are two basic quality issues that come about because of this ease of distribution of information.

First, there are no safeguards that assure the quality of what is written on the internet. We see material that can be useless, false, or even dangerous. We can find well-thought out ideas that enhance our understanding. Some things we read on the internet are written poorly. Other material is as well-written as any we might have read in traditional publishing. The bottom line is that the quality of material found on the internet is highly variable. The protection afforded by editors in the paper press is lacking on the internet, and there is nothing in place that assures the quality of either content or manner of presentation.

Second, many people can easily express either their unhappiness or pleasure with the products or services they buy. It is not difficult to find information on the internet that relates experiences that customers have had with a product, a service, or a company. Displeasure with a purchase can easily be read by thousands of potential customers. The implications of this are far-reaching. Companies need to be much more aware of their image and their customer service. Poor quality in products and services will no longer be hidden by the failure of the customer service department to take action. There is now another outlet for a customer to vent their feelings.

Quality is already being affected by the internet, and the long-term effects promise to be even greater. Any organization, that does not take seriously this new means of communication, is headed for a rocky future. Organizations need to recognize that a dissatisfied customer in no longer limited to talking with a few friends about complaints. That same customer now has many easy-too-access outlets for "getting even." The eventual effect of this should be an improvement in the quality of products, services, and customer support.