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« Location, location, location | Main | Real people »

Mar 01, 2012


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The net, at present, needs money to function. Most of us, though, seem to expect everything we do on the net to be free. So, businesses make money with targeted ads, licensing, etc., sustaining the illusion that it's all free. It's become the mall.

I think people would love the freedom of an open net. I think it's deplorable that the web is becoming an advertising platform. I am not at all sure that people are willing to pay to eliminate the advertising and get the freedom.

People have been whining about ads in print publications for years, but let someone try to sell subscriptions to an ad-less magazine with a realistic price and it will vanish in an instant. I don't think we would behave differently today. If someone offered a Google-equivalent search engine that didn't track and spam you but cost $100 per year, I suspect it would go bust very quickly.

We are a population of consumers, going Oooh and Awwww at all the shiny toys corporations dangle before us.

Ed Cone

Doc is not deploring market economics or expecting free services, but commenting on the balkanization of the net and the end of purchasing rights.


A taste of Doc's closing thoughts:

By losing the free and open Internet, and free and open devices to interact with it — and even such ordinary things as physical books and music media — we reduce the full scope of both markets and civilization.

But that’s hard to see when the walled gardens are so rich with short-term benefits

So much for a 'free market' even in a Republic.

Doc Searls

Thanks, Ed.

You're right that I'm not arguing that everything should be free on the Net. I am arguing that the Net as designed by its creators — and defined by its protocols — supports a free and open marketplace: the kind that free market advocates ought to like. But, alas, we're gradually shrinking that marketplace by placing more and more economic activity inside private markets such as Apple's and Amazon's. And, as the "content" business moves from the open market into Apple's, Amazon's and other private markets (including those of the cable and phone companies, doing private deals with publishers and producers of movies, music and TV), we are going to see growth mostly in those private spaces, and will ignore what's happening (or not happening) out in the free and open marketplace outside of them.

And we'll hardly know what we've lost, because we'll be focusing on which BigCo "wins" in a marketplace where "free" means "your choice of captor."(It blows my mind when I read Wall Street Journal editorials that talk about the phone/cable duopoly as "the market" at work. I keep thinking some day they'll wake up and smell the Net's massively positive wealth-producing externalities, but that clearly isn't going to happen.)

We've already lost a lot without even knowing it. Ever wonder why most podcasts are talk shows, or why there are almost no music podcasts? The reason is that a podcaster needs to "clear rights" for every piece of music, just like a Hollywood producer clears rights for music used in movies, and that work requires Xtreme lawyering. So, all we hear on podcasts is "podsafe" music, most of which you've never heard before. The exceptions are podcasts of shows on NPR and other large producers that have already done their deals with Hollywood, or have run the same shows on terrestrial radio, which affords blanket rights-clearance. Anyway, my point is that we don't miss popular music on podcasts because we never had it to begin with. We lost that fight before it began, way back in the late '90s.

To get a sense of what happened there, imagine if MCI, Compuserve, AOL and Prodigy had successfully lobbied Congress to prevent emailing except through their closed private systems that didn't communicate with each other. They would have talked about how open and interoperable email protocols were insecure and a threat to their businesses. That didn't happen, but it's the same kind of thing that Hollywood has been pushing with the likes of SOPA.

Yet I still have hope. New technologies and businesses will disrupt the old ones. And much more innovation can take place outside the private walled gardens than inside them.

But it will get worse before it gets better.

Ed Cone

Thanks, Doc, not least for your optimistic coda.

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