The recent scandal involving former Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson, ousted for falsifying information on his resume, shows yet again the futility of concealing information in this internet age. Yet, as we celebrate this transparency and the ability for information to be shared freely and instantaneously, there is a parallel inclination to try to curb these freedoms in the name of protecting consumers. The recent uproar over SOPA is a good example of these two opposing forces at play. As the CEO of a social media platform that brokers relationships and the information flow between professionals and consumers, I deal every day with issues related to the freedom of information, privacy and anonymity. And despite being under the almost daily threat of lawsuits, I stand on the side of making information on the web as open and accessible to all.
Sure, the lack of regulation on the Internet has its downside. Using health information as an example, I've observed huge frustration on the part of consumers about the massive quantities of health information and so-called health experts on the web, making it nearly impossible to know what information can and cannot be trusted. Google alone serves up well over a billion health searches every day. There's no way to control all of that information, nor would I support efforts to do so.
It is incumbent, however, on online content providers to offer the best possible service for customers. This means encouraging more rather than less information, embracing the idea of customer reviews and online ratings, and creating an environment that is wide open to scrutiny by the community because that is how the internet has proven to be most effective at delivering trustworthy information. My guiding principle when it comes to delivering public information over the web -- and yes, that includes the resume of the CEO of a publicly traded company -- is what I call the "3 Rs" of internet transparency: information should be revealed, reviewed and rated.
While online reviews and ratings are now commonplace for most consumer products and services, there's been more resistance when it comes to ratings and reviews for professional services. Here at Avvo we've had our fair share of backlash from the legal community on this front, because revealing once private information, such as professional misconduct, is seen by many as a threat to their professional reputation. But don't potential consumers deserve to know if an attorney, for example, has been disciplined by the bar? After all, they are putting some of their most important life decisions in your hands, and are paying a lofty sum for the privilege. And conversely, wouldn't professionals who go above and beyond for their clients want that to be known as publicly as possible?
For independent bankruptcy attorney, Kelly H. Zinser, one of most successful aspects of her Internet marketing efforts are her online client testimonials, which she actively solicits from her clients. The return on her investment in providing the best possible service to her clients, she once told me, comes in the form of positive online reviews from satisfied customers.
As an open internet community, we owe it to one another to support the open and free flowing exchange of information. Not only do our customers deserve this, but as information providers, our own online reputations demand it.
Mark Britton is the founder and CEO of Avvo, a free online resource that rates and profiles 90 percent of all doctors and lawyers in the U.S.
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