Archive for the ‘Internet Culture’ Category

The Web as a Cathedral

February 1, 2009

cathedral

In 1994, I had the honor of being among the first group of Americans to visit central Bulgaria after communism fell there.  It was a remarkable trip in many ways, but the thing that has stayed with me most vividly over these years is the marvel and awe that swelled within me when we visited a breathtakingly magnificent cathedral, brimming with truly glorious works of art and craftsmanship.  Every direction I looked, every spot that met my eyes whether near or far, was stunning.  It was an incredibly inspiring yet humbling experience.

Then, just one year later, an oddly similar feeling was evoked within me the first time I “dialed up” and connected to the World Wide Web.  How ridiculous, some might even say blasphemous, the comparison is!  Yet, there it is.  My eyes are actually tearing up as I write this.

A cathedral is a monument to the God I believe in, and whether or not you believe in Him, too, perhaps I can persuade you, as crazy as it might sound at first, that we should consider treating the Web as a cathedral to *something* that is much bigger than any one of us.

Great Cathedrals took centuries to build.  Carpenters, artists and craftsmen gave their lives to a project they would never see finished.  They toiled and sacrificed without fully knowing what it would someday become, but with the faith that whatever its ultimate form, their own little piece of it would be as splendid as they could possibly make it.

And they expected no credit.  We don’t know their names now because they didn’t record their names then.  It wasn’t for their own glory that they labored.

Brick layers, glass makers, sculptors, architects, painters, cabinet makers, weavers, goldsmiths, engineers…it’s overwhelming to consider all the varied talents and passions that people brought to the one effort that benefited all.

All of us, together, who contribute to the Web are building a great cathedral that will not be finished within our lifetime, no matter how old or young you are.  But too many times – and I include myself in this! – we forget that we are serving the one World Wide Web and self-centeredly build a cathedral to ourselves alone out of human followers and on-paper valuations.

The Open Movement has it right, I think.  Sometimes Open feels like an affliction, like a disease that is eating away livelihoods.  But open source developers are doing generous and noble work.

For me, and feel free to disagree and share you own perspective, a problem comes in when we confuse “open” with “free.”  The engineers and artisans who built the cathedrals were all paid in one way or another.  They and their families had to have food and shelter, after all.

I believe there is a good way to have an open Web that does not doom talented, hardworking people to the poverty of having to give all of their work away for nothing.  I further believe that we can throw open the doors to allow people the world over to make a living off the Web no matter what their talents and sensibilities and personal resources might be.  Geek or not.  Social or not.  Wealthy or not. 

The secret is The Square Triangle, which I have talked to deaf ears about for the past three years.  Perhaps with this damaged economy, when people are looking for new answers that don’t depend on Free alone, the Square Triangle can gain some traction.  I’ll explain it once again in the next day or two.

In the meantime, I think I’ll see if I can find my photo album and old video tapes that record that Bulgarian trip.  It was awesome, in the truest sense of the word.  My wish is that for everybody around the world, the Web will become just as awesome every day as my first experience of it was.  If people can make a living and thereby afford to express their passions and talents as we continue to build the one Web “cathedral” with all of its countless varied treasures, I think it will be.

 

How can the Web truly be “open” when only young white male geeks get to decide what the Web is?

January 28, 2009

closed1

How many times have we heard from the tech world that ideas are worthless, that only the application of ideas has value?  This commonly held Silicon Valley belief – that ideas are insignificant compared to execution – is, pardon my language, Scoble slobber.  Yet, this mistaken belief drives the Web.  Moreover, it self-servingly puts all the power in very few, non-diverse hands. 

Wall Street: old white males. 

Silicon Valley: young white males. 

You can’t be offended by one and happy with the other.

Yes, application is vital.  More than vital.  But you can’t apply something that doesn’t first exist: the idea.  Poor ideas remain poor even when executed well.  The most stellar engineers can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

The opposite is also true.  Good ideas are hard to keep down, no matter what.  Twitter wasn’t executed particularly well, to which the Fail Whale testifies, yet Twitter is flourishing because at its core was a good idea.

Good ideas are just as essential as good execution.  And as “execution” moves closer and closer to becoming a commodity thanks to the Open Source movement that has made “patent” and “proprietary” dirty words and developers interchangeable and expendable, someday soon, the only wealth creation advantage for any Internet product will be the idea itself. 

 Problem #1 – Silicon Valley’s inability to judge if an idea is truly good or not

How many times have we heard venture capitalists say that in order for them to consider your project, you need to get something launched and prove traction?  What is this demand if not an admission that they don’t have a clue if your idea is solid or not?  Yes, you can choose to believe that they are testing your execution abilities, but your programming skills could be confirmed by simply pointing to other projects you’ve already completed.  What they really want to know is whether or not people will desire what you develop. 

That’s what traction is, of course: confirmation of the idea. 

Silicon Valley’s “let’s throw ideas against the wall to see what sticks” approach is extremely wasteful of time, talent and money.  It also limits executed ideas to those of mostly young (limited life experience), mostly left-brained (limited creativity) mostly males (limited accommodation).

Solution

VC firms have technical expertise to judge the technology, but as everything becomes open source and non-patentable, this analysis is less critical.  The Social Web has taken over and social science can no longer be ignored.   VC firms should hire or contract with people who can judge ideas from a human adoption standpoint.   This means people with expertise in anthropology, sociology and trend forecasting.

Problem #2 – Silicon Valley’s sexism

 “Sexism” is a word I very seldom use and certainly do not brandish carelessly.  Neither do I mean it on an individual basis.  These days most men aren’t ignorant-based bigots against women.  But Silicon Valley and the Web itself are extremely “institutionally sexist” given the fact that the vast majority of VCs, technologists, and tech reporters/bloggers are male.  Even as women are now online in greater numbers than men, female ideas and wants and desires largely go unexecuted. 

Elevating anthropology and sociology to the same plane as technology as suggested above will naturally bring in more women, but more needs to be done. 

Solution

Investors should actively seek out ideas not just from women, but also from other groups that aren’t now being included in VC’s ponder piles, like older folks and racial minorities. 

“If you could build the world’s best Internet experience, what would it be like?”  Ask that question, sift through the business plans, verify that the result would be desirable to large numbers and THEN go get the technical talent that it takes to execute.

Why is that so hard to fathom? 

Ideas may be a dime a dozen but GOOD ideas can be worth millions.  Even billions.  Open up who can offer business plans, get diverse experts to help review them from a people-perspective as well as tech-perspective – so you can stop the absurdity of “build this first and then maybe we’ll give you the money to build this” – and you’re bound to find some great ideas that can be executed.  And I’ll bet most will include monetization plans, too!

Either that or we can just stay stuck in the poverty of Web 2.0 until Scoble runs out of slobber for yet another social network by yet another young white geek male.  SIGH

PS: Before anybody accuses me of geek bashing, I love geeks.  My late husband was a geek who worked for Intel.  How could we live without you guys?  I wouldn’t want to try.  But it takes all kinds to make the world go round, and it is the Worldwide Web, after all. 

The Internet should reflect everybody.  And until it does “open” is closed.  That’s all I’m saying.

What FREE gets you

January 16, 2009

My son is a former Marine.  Yesterday, I went with him up to Portland’s VA Hospital.  It’s a big ugly place that reminds me of the communist buildings in Eastern Europe.  Even the toilet seats look like they’ve been there since the 60s.

While my son was in his appointment, I asked the fellow at the counter if the VA offers sleep studies, as I suspect my son has sleep apnea.  He told me, yes, they do offer it.  But it takes THREE YEARS to get an appointment.  My jaw dropped.  THREE YEARS?!  Yep.  He knows because he’s been waiting two years himself and was happy that he only has one year to go. 

The VA is like the free Internet.  We think that the Web is fabulous because that’s all we know, but it’s not half what it could be.

The thing people don’t understand is that free has an opposite end, and you can’t pick up one end of the stick without picking up the other.  Getting something for free means somebody else is supplying something for nothing.   What will that eventually do to quality and quantity?  What will that do to the money supply?  No shared revenue.  No research and development.  No innovation and job growth.

Where things are free, there is no bustling economy.   Incomes are low for the few jobs that exist.  Quality is relatively poor.  The engine of wealth creation is turned off.

Look, would you rather be able to earn $100 and have to pay for $50 worth of stuff, or get $25 worth of stuff for free and have no income?

Too many Internet users are choosing the latter.  They don’t understand that the Internet’s free culture has been a disaster when it comes to art, culture, and economic growth.

We have movie actors and television actors.  Why are there no Internet actors?  Because of Free.  Why is the Family Guy guy the only tv professional creating Web-only content?  Because of Free.  Why will even geeks have increasing difficulty making a living off the Internet?  Because of Free.

Thankfully, there are other hospitals – and sleep clinics – besides the VA.  There is no other Internet besides the free Internet.  That’s going to change.  And those people who keep an open mind will be the first to appreciate those changes and to profit by them.  It’s not going to be an easy transition for a lot of people, just like Eastern Europe hasn’t made an easy transition from communism to capitalism, but in the end, the vast majority of people will declare their lives better off because of it.

It Makes Money to Take Money

January 13, 2009


I’ve been warning for years that the “free” Internet is a collective disaster.  If you want some explanation of that, watch my video.  (Sorry for the diction…I was being treated for cancer at the time and my tongue was fat and lazy.)

It amazes me how many perfectly well-meaning, intelligent people believe that society is better off when all news, information, entertainment and visual arts can be consumed without charge.  Yet, if you asked those same people if it would be good for society if grocery stores gave away all their food for free, at least most of them would understand that the answer is no.

Of course, “free” never really meant free; it means “let somebody else pay.”  Let the investors pay.  Let the advertisers pay.  Let the guy who wants a t-shirt pay.  And don’t forget the girl who is embarrassed by the donation pleas from starving artists who will pay.   The rest of us can happily ignore any responsibility to cough up without shame.  After all, free is righteous.  We’re not bums, we’re enlightened.  Or so the argument has gone for years.

But now, our economy is in the pits, VCs are closing their pockets, advertisers are falling away, and donations are less likely than ever.  So what will this mean for the Internet?

It means the free lunch is over.

A paradigm shift is coming.  Free will be replaced by direct payment models.  Look for the best websites to start charging admission and subscription fees.  Micropayments will finally be made workable.  User-generated content will no longer be happily provided to make other people rich.

Many people will kick and scream during the transition, but ultimately, everybody will be much better off.  The Internet will flourish both economically and culturally as more talents get compensated and creativity finally explodes to everyone’s delight and prosperity.

In a few years time, the Internet culture that is today dominated by defenders of free will be thriving beyond recognition thanks to those who understand during this recession that it makes money to take money – and especially to those who are brave enough to act accordingly.