The Internet was originally created to make it easier to transfer files and share information. In the past few decades, society and technology have entered an era of rapid development, and the Internet has gradually become a global marketplace where business, communication and culture are intertwined, and at the same time, it has become more and more commercialized. It has not only changed the way businesses operate, but has also reshaped the way we live, work and even interact with the world. It has provided more choices for individuals and groups alike, thus fuelling the rapid growth of the digital economy and ushering in an unprecedented era of connectivity. However, it is worth noting that the commercialization of the Internet has also given rise to a range of issues relating to privacy, monopoly and the digital divide. Exploring the nature and impact of the commercialization of the Internet is therefore a primary prerequisite for creating a more harmonious digital economy and society.
The source of Internet commercialization
From a macro perspective, the commercialization of the Internet was nurtured by the emergence of the digital economy, the earliest roughly dating back to the 1970s, a period in which computer technology began to spread, and it was found that it demonstrated more efficient and accurate data processing capabilities in business, and began to become an important tool for enterprise management and decision-making, while at the same time the Internet began to emerge in front of the public, laying the foundation for the commercialization of the Internet.
In the 1990s, the rapid development of the Internet and information technology made it possible to create efficient mobility and information gaps even in distant places by providing easy access to distant knowledge, thereby increasing productivity and removing two important barriers to trade. (Vijay K. Vemuri &Shahid Siddiqi, 2009) The digital economy can be said to have entered an explosive phase. The emergence of e-commerce has disrupted the traditional mode of economic operation, weakened the constraints of time and space, and made business activities more convenient and efficient. Moreover, a variety of new business models have emerged with the rise of Internet consumption. As a result, the digital economy began to become a new driving force for economic entities and officially sounded the clarion call for the commercialization of the Internet.
New business model
Portal sites appeared earlier, notably the American Yahoo site, which is considered one of the creators of the Internet miracle at the end of the 20th century. Its services include search engines, e-mail, news and so on. However, the main source of income for the portal is advertising and subscriptions, and the extent of commercialization is still very limited.
The real turning point in the commercialization of the Internet came with the explosion of the sharing economy, a trans-formative economic model driven by digital platforms that challenged our traditional notions of ownership and consumption. Essentially, it represents a shift from an “ownership economy” to an “access economy” in which individuals prioritize access to goods and services over full ownership. This shift has far-reaching implications for resource use, environmental sustainability and urban planning. By encouraging the sharing of assets such as cars, accommodation and even tools, the sharing economy goes some way to reducing resource consumption as well as costs and easing pressure on the planet, and has been an emerging driver of economic development for some time. In addition, the sharing economy reflects a broader cultural shift that values experiences and access over possessions, challenging traditional economic models based on sustained growth and consumption. As we respond to this changing landscape, we must consider the ethical, social and environmental dimensions of the sharing economy to ensure that it truly delivers on the promise of a more sustainable and equitable future.
The next stage in the commercialization of the Internet is embodied in social media. The creators of short videos, blogs, etc. and their users can be said to cover virtually all levels of society, and the media economy is beginning to build another mode of interaction in the consumer market, and its consumption patterns have become more diversified. TikTok, for example, is a globally popular platform whose videos go viral and quickly capture the attention of users. Unlike Instagram and Facebook, which are mostly linear and incremental, meaning content is in silos and it’s harder for users to access new things. TikTok, on the other hand, analyses user behaviour and recommends other content with similar interests, repeating the process over and over again, resulting in a wider range of content (Jeremy Boudinet, 2023), encouraging more frequent transactions and economic flows.
Changes brought about by Internet commercialization
The internet economy did not always start out well, as valuations rose and funding dried up. This led to a market crash and many of these companies did not even have a business plan or product (Adam Hayes, 2023). However, the collapse of the Dotcom Bubble does not mean that all internet companies have failed, such as Amazon, and will eventually surpass the prices they enjoyed during the boom. Excessive enthusiasm for the new opportunities presented by the World Wide Web fuelled the dotcom bubble boom. And many of the wild predictions about how different the Web would make to the business world have increasingly come true (Margaret Rouse, 2012).
On a personal level, the digital economy accelerates the digitization of production, distribution and consumption, improving efficiency and convenience. People can meet their needs more conveniently through online shopping, online payment, sharing platforms, etc. At the same time, it also opens up more low-threshold entrepreneurship and employment directions for the unemployed, which is also beneficial to the vitality of the urban economy.
And at the macro level, the digital economy has significantly contributed to a boom in innovation and entrepreneurial activity. The application of innovative technologies and the emergence of innovative models have underpinned new industries and new economic growth. Not only that, the Internet and its ICT infrastructure are now providing entrepreneurs and small businesses with better access to international markets (Vijay K& Shahid, 2009) making international trade exchanges easier and realizing economic win-win situations between countries.
Questions and reflections on issues arising from the commercialisation of the Internet
Up to now, the biggest problem caused by the commercialization of the Internet is the loss of personal privacy. Our online identities can be easily accessed and exploited, and information leaks can occur when we sign up for accounts on different platforms. Yahoo has had more than one major information leak, the most dramatic being the leak of 3 billion users’ information. This has led to a focus on protecting user information and minimizing data breaches.
In addition, the internet economy is ultimately profit-driven, and the dominance of a few leading tech giants in internet commerce is likely to lead to vicious competition and monopolistic behaviour. In the same way that Amazon’s market dominance undermines opportunity and increases inequality, the concentration of power threatens competition, democracy and public life. (Sergio Retamal, 2020) At the same time, this case shows that the commercialization of the internet has not benefited everyone equally. Whether for individuals or for some offline-driven small and medium-sized enterprises, the digital divide remains a major problem, with many people lacking access to affordable high-speed internet, creating further social and economic inequalities. While the digital economy facilitates industrial upgrading and optimization, increasing productivity and competitiveness, it is also important to take into account innovation in the real economy and develop a harmonious and mutually beneficial situation wherever possible, but this may require consensus on several fronts.
The commercialization of the Internet has driven development through innovative business models, expanded employment opportunities and diversified consumer choice. But it has also brought challenges such as sustainability, privacy concerns and the wise use of resources. Balancing these interests and concerns is essential as we embrace the shared time economy and navigate this changing landscape. We need to ensure that the commercialization of the internet is in line with our values, protects privacy, promotes sustainable practices and maximizes its potential so that innovation in search, social, broadband, mobile and cloud is not over (Lee Hower, 2017).Creating a better environment for the digital economy is one of the priorities for a fairer internet platform.
Boudinet, J. (2023, May 31). Demystifying the Tiktok Economy: What Brands Need To Know. Ubiquitous Influencer Marketing. https://www.ubiquitousinfluence.com/post/the-tiktok-economy
Hayes, A. (2023, June 13). Dotcom bubble definition. Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/d/dotcom-bubble.asp#toc-how-the-dotcom-bubble-burst
Larson, S. (2017, October 4). Every single yahoo account was hacked. CNNMoney. https://money.cnn.com/2017/10/03/technology/business/yahoo-breach-3-billion-accounts/index.html
Retamal, S. (2020, May 20). The negative impact of Amazon on the economy. LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/negative-impact-amazon-economy-sergio-retamal
Rouse, M. (2012, September 28). Dot-com boom. Techopedia. https://www.techopedia.com/definition/26175/dot-com-boom
Vemuri, V. K., & Siddiqi, S. (2009). Impact of commercialization of the internet on international trade: A panel study using the Extended Gravity Model. The International Trade Journal, 23(4), 458–484. https://doi.org/10.1080/08853900903223792