July 2012

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Journalists often speak of “the record” as a substantial thing, for example, by getting a clear signal from a source that what’s said will be “on the record.”

But what if “the record” is evanescent, is it a “record” in the long-term sense the word implies? Nothing lasts forever, of course, but one would like to think “the record” would last, say, a few generations. Yet most of journalism‘s products, I would bet, do not.

Nearly all of radio is long gone. Same with a lot — maybe most — of television. Even if tapes are kept, what can play them? In my garage I have a box of 2″, 1″, 3/4″ and VHS (1/2″) tapes of TV “content” (as we say today) from decades ago. Except for the VHS tapes, I don’t have a machine that can play any of them, and don’t expect to find one easily, or ever. I also have many hundreds of cassette tapes, plus hundreds of floppies, mini-disks and other containers for which decanting will prove troublesome or impossible. Much of my old data can only be read by old computers with old operating systems, and I only have a few combinations of those, also taking up space in the garage, some of which haven’t felt electric current in two decades or more. And let’s not go into the (yes, literally) dozens of dead hard drives I have in boxes and drawers, with who-knows-what half-buried inside them.

I suppose most of the major newspapers have troubled to archive their data. But it’s customary for the papers to put their old “content” behind a paywall — giving away the news and charging for the olds, as it were. I think that’s a mistake, but I’m a voice in the wilderness on that one. In any case, getting at “the record” at a big paper is often a pain in the ass, typically an expensive one.

And now that the live Web has become normative (all that social stuff, and commercial sites with content that changes by the moment, with the “experience” customized differently for everybody, in real time) the only place the relatively static Web survives is Wikipedia. Is “the record” anywhere more sensible and intact than in Wikipedia? I might be wrong (yes, tell me) but that’s how it looks to me.

Wikipedia is imperfect in countless ways. But at least it works, and its unambiguous purpose is to serve as a record. Every article has a history, and every revision can be found. Searches across the whole of any article’s history (and across other variables) can be done. Again, it’s not perfect, but improving it isn’t out of the question, or in the hands of some .com or .org that might be sold.

So here’s what I’m thinking: Journalism, as a field, should be concerned with adding to the record that is Wikipedia. (Wikipedia clearly cares about journalism.) If you are a reporter or an editor, and you write something of worthy of citation in a Wikipedia article, maybe you should put it in there — or have somebody else do it — as a professional pro formality. Hey, why not?

I also wonder to what degree journalism classes, and schools of journalism, care about Wikipedia. I believe it should be a lot, if it isn’t already. But I don’t know, yet. Though I plan to soon, since I plan to make journalism a preoccupation of mine over the coming year. Details when I’m ready in a month or so.

I started working in retailing, wholesaling, journalism and radio when I was 18-24. I co-founded an advertising agency when I was 25-34. Among other things there, I studied Nielsen and Arbitron ratings for radio and TV. The radio station I did most of that work for was an album rock station, one of the first, target demographic 18-34. It’s a country station now, target demographic, 25-54. Other “desirable” demographics for commercial media are 18-49 and 25-49. The demographic I entered between the last sentence and this one, 65+, is the last in the series and the last least desirable to marketers, regardless of the size of the population in it, or the disposable wealth it is ready to spend.

Thus I have now fallen over the edge of a demographic cliff, at the bottom of which is little of major interest to marketers, unless they’re hawking the cushy human equivalent of parking lots (cruises, golf. “lifestyle” communities), “erectile dsyfunction,” adult diapers or dementia onset warnings.

For individuals, demographics are absurd. None of us are an age, much less a range of them. We’re animals who live and work and have fun and do stuff. Eventually we croak, but if we stay healthy we acquire wisdom and experience, and find ourselves more valuable over time. Though we’re less employable as we climb the high end of the demographic ladder, it’s  not because we can’t do the work. It’s mostly because we look old and our tolerance for bullshit is low. Even our own, sometimes.

Nearly 100% of the people I work with are younger than me, usually by a generation or two. I almost never feel old among them. Sometimes I joke about it, but I really don’t care. It helps to have been around. It helps to know how fast and well the mighty rise, and then fall. It helps to see what comes and stays, and to know why it matters more than what comes and goes.

For most of my life I’ve worked in the most amazing industry the world has ever hosted. Technology is a miracle business. Lots of good new things come and go, but three are staying for the duration. I knew it when I saw each arrive and then fail to leave. They were things nobody owned, everybody could use and anybody could improve. For all three reasons they supported boundless economic growth and other benefits to society. The first was the personal computer. The second was the internet. The third was the smartphone. All three were genies that granted wishes without end, and weren’t going back in their bottles.

Yeah, they all had problems and caused many more. They were like people that way. But these two graces — computing and worldwide communication ease — in your pocket or purse, are now as normal as wearing shoes. Nobody owns the design for those either. Also, everyone can use then and anyone can improve them. That’s pretty freaking cool, even though it’s hardly appreciated.

I could go on but I’ll let this interview with Dorie Clark suggest the rest. I’ve gotta sleep before we hit the road early in the morning to celebrate the beginning of the rest of my life. May yours be at least as long. And as good.

 

When I was a kid I had near-perfect vision. I remember being able to read street signs and license plates at a distance, and feeling good about that. But I don’t think that was exceptional. Unless we are damaged in some way, the eyes we are born with tend to be optically correct. Until… what?

In my case it was my junior year in college. That’s when I finally became a good student, spending long hours reading and writing in my carrel in the library basement, bad flourescent light, cramping my vision at a single distance the whole time. Then, when I’d walk out and the end of the day or the evening, I’d notice that things were a little blurry at a distance. After a few minutes, my distance vision would gradually clear up. By the end of the year, however, my vision had begun to clear up less and less. By the end of my senior year, I needed glasses for distance: I had become myopic. Nearsighted. I remember the prescription well: -.75 dioptres for my left eye and -1.oo dioptres for my right.

I then began the life of a writer, with lots of sitting still, reading things and writing on a typewriter or (much later) a computer. Since I tended to wear glasses full-time, the blurred distance vision when work was done — and then the gradual recovery over the following minutes or hours — continued. And my myopia gradually increased. So, by the time I reached my forties, I was down to -3 dioptres of correction for both eyes.

A digression into optics… “Reading” glasses, for hyperopia, or farsightedness, are in positive dioptres: +1, +2, etc. As magnifiers, they tend toward the convex, thicker in the middle and thinner toward the edges, or frames. Corrections for myopia tend toward the concave, thicker on the edges. You can sort-of see the thick edges of my frames in the YouTube video above, shot in June, 1988, when I was a month away from turning 42 (and looked much younger, which I wish was still the case). My glasses were Bill Gates-style aviators.

I also began to conclude that myopia, at least in my case was adaptive. It made sense to me that the most studious kids — the ones who read the most, and for the longest times each day — wore glasses, almost always for myopia.

So I decided to avoid wearing glasses as much as I could. I would wear none while writing and reading (when I didn’t need them), and only wear them for driving, or at other times when distance vision mattered, such as when watching movies or attending sports events. Over the years, my vision improved. By the time I was 55, I could pass the eye test at the DMV, and no longer required glasses for driving. In another few years my vision was 20/25 i

n one eye and 20/30 in the other. I still had distance glasses (mostly for driving), but rarely used them otherwise.

I’ve been told by my last two optometrists that most likely my changes were brought on by onset of cataracts (which I now have, though mostly in my right eye), and maybe that was a factor, but I know of at least two other cases like mine, in which myopia was reduced by avoiding correction for it. And no optometrist or opthamologist I visted in my forties or fifties noted cataracts during eye examinations. But all have doubted my self-diagnosis of adaptive myopia.

Now I read stories like, “Why Up to 90% of Asian Schoolchildren Are Nearsighted: Researchers say the culprit is academic ambition: spending too much time studying indoors and not enough hours in bright sunlight is ruining kids’ eyesight“… and the provisional conclusion of my one-case empirical study seems, possibly, validated.

It also seems to me that the prevalence of myopia, worldwide, is high enough to make one wonder if it’s a feature of civilization, like cutting hair and wearing shoes.

I also wonder whether Lasik is a good idea, especially when I look at the large number of old glasses,  all with different prescriptions, in my office drawer at home. What’s to stop one’s eyes from changing anyway, after Lasik? Maybe Lasik itself? I know many people who have had Lasik procedures, and none of them are unhappy with the results. Still, I gotta wonder.

 

Last weekend the cover essay in the Review section of The Wall Street Journal was The Customer as a God, by yours truly. Now that a few days have gone by, and I’ve done lots of responding in the comments below that piece and elsewhere, I can start looking at some of the responses that have appeared on the Web. Aside from a zillion tweets (mostly approving, and now all scrolling to oblivion — save, maybe, for Topsy — having completed their brief dances across the Short Attention Span Theater stage), I find there were (to me) surprisingly few responses in blogs.

When I searched for “The Customer as a God” on Google (which is almost link-proof, since the URL is mostly cruft about the browser and stuff), most of the top results were mentions in faked-up news sites that scrape stories from the mainstream press. (Victory for SEO at all costs there.) Bing at least has a copy-able search URL, which is here, but the results are just as crappy. (And the results were little different in either engine when I searched in private or “incognito” mode.) So here were the few I found, all but one buried below the first page of results, plus others sent to me by readers…

  • In The Customer as God, Nic Brisbourne of The Equity Kicker and the investment firm DFJ Esprit says he’s ready to help the cause: “I’m writing about this now because I just read an interview with Doc Searls about his new book, The Intention Economy. The interview is a good reminder of the problems with the existing advertising system and how things will look different in the future. As I say, I still believe in the vision of VRM, but equally the path that gets us there still isn’t clear. I think developments in smartphones and intelligent agents are bringing us closer to the point when that clarity will arrive though, and I’d be happy to hear from any startups working in this area.” (The interview of which he writes is the WSJ essay.)
  • In Personal Power and Vendor Relationship Marketing, Susan Lindsay of Brick Meets Click writes, ‘Consumer technology use has shifted the balance of power from retailers to shoppers,’ we say these days, but has the industry fully grasped how far the pendulum could swing?  ‘No!’ says Doc Searls in a provocative WSJ column. He describes a future in which shoppers define and drive what could be called the ‘C2B’ economy via ‘intentioncasts.’ They broadcast their need to vendors who meet their terms and conditions, collect offers from them, and then make a selection. He calls it VRM (for Vendor Relationship Marketing), and it completely reverses the direction in which CRM flows.”
  • Consumers to Battle the Healthcare Gods, by Caroline Poppler, M.D., M.P.H., in Popper and Co. “The ‘inflection point’ of medicine—where portable devices, low-cost genetic screening, and a wealth of accurate online health information all merge to allow a consumer to call the shots—isn’t here yet, but it’s close.”
  • In What Peter Drucker Would Be Readingthe Drucker Institute blog begins, “1. The Customer as a God: Some of us find the power of large companies to be frightening, with too much of our personal data falling into the hands of strangers. For now, writes Doc Searls in The Wall Street Journal, many businesses view the free market as “one in which customers get to choose their captors. Choosing among AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon for your new smartphone is like choosing where you’d like to live under house arrest.” But in a few decades, the power balance will shift more decisively to the consumer: “Progress in empowering customers won’t be smooth or even, but it will happen.” Drucker is one of my heroes, so that one is hugely gratifying.
  • In Doc Searls: WSJ Centerfold, David Weinberger (my colleague, pal and fellow Cluetrain author) kindly writes, “It’s a testament to Doc and also a hopeful sign of the times that the WSJ today features on its weekend cover a story by Doc about the theme of his new book, The Intention Economy. The title of the piece is “The Customer as a God,” a headline Doc didn’t write and isn’t entirely comfortable with. But the piece is strong. And getting it on the cover of WSJ is like getting a story about VRM on the cover of CRM Magazine. Which Doc also did.”
  • In The (Smart) Customer as a God, Bruce Kasanof begins, “Our friend Doc Searls carried the flag this weekend in a major piece he wrote for the WSJ.. The flag is Smart Customers Stupid Companies, the name of both the blog and the book by Bruce and his co-author, Michael Hinshaw.
  • In Doc Searls on the market of one, Espen Anderson of Applied Abstractions writes, “customer power is increasingly on the rise – though it has come much longer in the USA than it has in Europe, no matter how much legislation EU has as opposed to the USA. The wonders of competition and falling transaction costs…
  • In Is your business ready to pick-up intentcast from Customers? Sivaraman Swaminathan of Customer World writes in agreement with the essay, adding a number of additional points. The first: “Businesses are increasingly finding a large majority of their customers really don’t want them to be reached out to. The digital mediums of mobile, web make this “shut-out” very easy. I have heard customers say that You Tube Ads are annoying – be it the banners or the ads before the videos. They just are blind spots. The best customers don’t want to be bugged with messages and worst customers  businesses don’t care any way!  They need to find a new model to appeal to both.”
  • The Customer as a God: Is This a Revolution in Business? in LinkedIn Today. A series of short tweet-like posts.
  • Vendor Relationship Management, in The Customer Institute, the blog of William H. Beuel, Professor of Decision Sciences, Graziadio School of Business and Management, Pepperdine University. “The implications of this idea will all to ultimately have a profound effect on what we currently mean by customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. No longer will companies be the dominant force in the company customer relationship. The customer will become the dominant force and will make decisions based on a greater set of data but also instantly available data.”
  • In The Customer as a God, Tribal Warrior on The Island of the Misfit Hams says nothing but embeds the video of my talk titled User-driven Democracy at the Personal Democracy Forum last year.
  • In Doc Searls in the WSJ: The Customer as a GodDrummond Reed on the Connect.me blog calls my case “a compelling argument for customer empowerment, one of the core beliefs of Connect.Me, where we have always felt that the empowered customer and control of their personal data is a major benefit for both companies and customers.”
  • In Treat Your Clients Like Gods… Or Don’t (The Ideal State of Client0Advisro Relationships)DJ writes this in the blueleaf blog: “The optimal state of affairs for customer/vendor, client/advisor relationships is no different from any other relationship: they ought be healthy, balanced, open, and above all be characterized by mutual respect.” Most of the rest of his post was disapproving, based mainly on the title of the essay, which (as David W points out above) was not mine. I address the misunderstanding in a comment under his post.
  • In To Bee or Not To Beebigbear posts The relationship with “customers” and says “I don’t believe in objectifying people as ‘customers’, because  I don’t want to fall into that mind trap of thinking of people as walking bundles of money.”

I’m sure there are more, and I’ll look for those tomorrow, which is now today, I just noticed. Midnight just went by.

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racing shopping cartYesterday my 15-year-old son and I made brief stop at the Micro Center in Cambridge, looking at what it might take (and cost) to build a Linux/Windows desktop computer from the ground up—something that had been an interest of his for the last couple of years. (Mine too, actually.) The answer, price-wise (at least there), was more than we wanted to spend, so we decided to stop looking and head out.

But there were plenty of distractions in the store, so I paused at a few counters, tables and bins to examine stuff like cheap ($2.99) optical mice, flat-screen monitors (mine are old and fading), and various kinds of outboard drives. (Two of mine crapped out last week, and our first stop of the day had been dropping them off at a repair shop.)

As it happens we were on our way back from a hike in the Blue Hills Reservation, where the kid’s patience had already been stretched by my tendency to pause to munch and reminisce at every huckleberry patch (I grew up spending summers among them), plus a half-hour stop at the observatory and science center at the crest of Blue Hill itself. So he was glad when we finally walked out of the store, and, presumably, to the car and then home.

But there was a Trader Joe’s in the same lot, and I wanted to make a quick stop there to pick up a few supplies. The kid groaned.

“I promise to shop like a man,” I said. “Fast as I can.” Then I began to sing that rhyme to the tune of the Four Season’s “Walk Like a Man.” Shop like a man, fast as you can. Shop like a man, my son…

He replied, “The true man shops without stopping.”

It then took us less than two minutes to get what we wanted (yogurt for smoothies, peppermint tea, a couple other things), check out and leave. The kid calls this “speed shopping.” Also “powering through” a store. Rob Becker, whose Defending the Caveman is a required theater experience (go as a couple—it’ll help), puts it this way in an interview:

Q: What does the title of your show refer to?

A: The show is about an average guy’s response to all the anger that is coming at him. It goes back to the beginning of time. The image of the caveman is that of a guy bopping a woman on the head and dragging her back to his cave. But no serious anthropologist believes that. The caveman thought women were magical. But the caveman, to me, became a symbol of man being misunderstood.

Q: What were our primitive roles, and what effect do they have on our behavior today?

A: Men were hunters; women were gatherers. The hunter locks in on one thing, which is why guys have a narrow focus, whether it’s watching TV, reading the newspaper or driving. They block everything else out because, as hunters, they had to focus on the rear end of an animal. On the other hand, women, as gatherers, had to take in the whole landscape. Their field of vision is wider.

Q: How do these differences manifest themselves in a shopping mall?

A: The hunter tracks one thing. If I need a shirt, I go and kill a shirt with my credit card and drag it home. The gatherer doesn’t know what she’s going for because she doesn’t know what’s going to be ripe or in bloom. She’s open to the environment. When I go shopping with my wife, I keep bugging her about what she’s looking for, and she says, “Don’t bother me; I’ll know it when I see it.”

Q: Do men and women respond differently to an empty bowl of potato chips?

A: Women cooperate, men negotiate. If six women are sitting around a bowl and it gets low, they all get up and go to the kitchen as a pack. And while they’re there, they’ll make more dip. With six guys, it’s completely different. One guy will say, “It’s my house; I’m not going to refill it.” Another will say, “Yeah, but I bought ‘em.” Another will say, “But we used my car.” I’ve seen it come down to their using a tape measure so the guy closest to the kitchen had to go.

The italics are mine. The kid’s too.

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I won’t go into details, because it’s a private matter for the people involved. But the story is about a good woman and her loving husband and sons, all good men in the full meaning of that term.

A few minutes ago I was thinking in the shower about what “good men” actually meant. This is the answer that came to me: They’ve got your back, and they’ve got your heart.

Wanted to share that while it’s still fresh.

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The Web as we know it today was two years old in June 1997, when the page below went up. It lasted, according to Archive.org, until October 2010. When I ran across it back then, it blew my mind — especially the passage I have boldfaced in the long paragraph near the end.

The Internet is a table for two. Any two, anywhere. All attempts to restrict it and lock it down will fail to alter the base fact that the Net’s protocols are designed to eliminate the functional distance, as far as possible, between any two points, any two devices, any two people. This is the design principle for a World of Ends. That last link goes to a piece and I wrote in 2003, to as little effect, I suspect, as @Man’s piece had in 1997. I doubt any of the three of us would write the same things the same ways today. But the base principle, that table-for-two-ness, is something I believe all of us respect. It won’t go away. That’s why I thought it best to disinter @Man’s original and run it again here.

I have another reason. Searching for @Man is Michael O’Connor Clarke‘s last blog post before falling ill in June. I don’t know who or where @Man is today. I did correspond with him briefly when we were writing The Cluetrain Manifesto in 1999, but all my emails from that time were trashed years ago. So I’m clueless on this one. If you’re out there and reading this, @Man, get in touch. Thanks.


Attention, Fat Corporate Bastards!

by @Man

Attention, Fat Corporate Bastards!
Attention, Fat Corporate Bastards in your three piece suits!

Attention Fat Congressional Bastards!
Attention, Fat Congressional Bastards in your three piece suits!

We know about your plans for the Internet. Although you won’t listen, we would like to point out how wrong you are now, so we can point out gleefully how right we were later.

According to a presentation given by Nicholas Negroponte at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Toronto, called “The Information Age: Transforming Technology to Strategy,” here is what you Fat Corporate Bastards think we want:

  1. Movies on demand (94% executive approval)
  2. Home shopping (89% approval)
  3. On-line video games (89% approval)

Here’s what you think we don’t want:

  1. educational services
  2. access to government information

Here’s a clue: you can stick the first set up your bum, sideways.

Here’s what we really want. Don’t bother paying attention; I want you to learn the hard way, by wasting lots of time and money.

Desired Internet Service Attributes:

  1. Cheap, unlimited flat-rate international communication
  2. Hands off: No censorship, no advertisements, no lawsuits
  3. Respect
  4. Privacy

Desired Internet Services:

  1. Email, WWW, Usenet, IRC, FTP
  2. Explicit adult material
  3. Access to government and corporate information for oversight purposes
  4. Educational services
  5. Free networked multiplayer games

Guess what? We already have all the things we want. As soon as we’re ready for something new, we get it – for free. Why? Because the traditional consumer/producer relationship doesn’t exist on the Internet. Don’t you think that if we really wanted the things you think we want, we would have already developed them some time in the past 20 years for free? Free! Free! It’s so much fun to be able to use that word you hate. Take your margins with you and stick to trying to shove ads onto PBS and NPR.

You almost certainly think of the Internet as an audience of some type–perhaps somewhat captive. If you actually had even the faintest glimmering of what reality on the net is like, you’d realize that the real unit of currency isn’t dollars, data, or digicash. It’s reputation and respect. Think about how that impacts your corporate strategy. Think about how you’d feel if a guy sat down at your lunch table one afternoon when you were interviewing an applicant for a vice-president’s position and tried to sell the two of you a car, and wouldn’t go away. Believe it or not, what you want to do with the Internet is very similar. Just as you have a reasonable expectation of privacy and respect when you’re at a table for two in a public place, so too do the users of the Internet have a reasonable expectation of privacy and respect. When you think of the Internet, don’t think of Mack trucks full of widgets destined for distributorships, whizzing by countless billboards. Think of a table for two.

If you don’t understand right now, don’t worry. You’ll learn it the hard way. We’ll be there to help you learn, you filthy corporate guttersnipes.

With bile and premonitions of glee,

@Man


@Man, World-Class Data Snuggler

The storm is hitting right now:

Remember that auroras can be a thousand miles high. So even if they’re over Canada, they can still be visible in the upper part of the lower U.S. 48. Or even sometimes south of there.

And maybe that’s a better place to be, since it stays light up there overnight this time of year. Not so down here.

I’m going to go out and  check now. Here in Boston the light pollution is so strong it’ll be hard to spot. The moon won’t help either. Still, worth a try. Those in upper Midwest, prairie and mountain states… doesn’t look here like there’s much cloud cover. So looking might work well for you. Worth a try.

My son remembers what I say better than I do. One example is this:

I uttered it in some context while wheezing my way up a slope somewhere in the Reservation.

Except it wasn’t there. Also I didn’t say that. Exactly. Or alone. He tells me it came up while we were walking across after getting some hang time after Mass at the . He just told me the preceding while looking over my shoulder at what I’m writing. He also explains that the above is compressed from dialog between the two of us, at the end of which he said it should be a bumper sticker, which he later designed, sent to me and you see above.

What I recall about the exchange, incompletely (as all recall is, thanks to the graces and curses of short term memory), is that I was thinking about the imperatives of invention, and why my nature is native to Silicon Valley, which exists everywhere ideas and ambition combine and catch fire.

I fired up Searls.com in early 1995, and began publishing on it immediately. A lot of that writing is at a subdomain called Reality 2.0. Here is one piece from that early list, which I put up just days before Bill Gates’ famously (at the time) “declared war” on the browser market (essentially, Netscape). Interesting to look back on what happened and what didn’t. — Doc


THE WEB
AND THE NEW REALITY
By Doc Searls
December 1, 1995 

Contents


Reality 2.0

The import of the Internet is so obvious and extreme that it actually defies valuation: witness the stock market, which values Netscape so far above that company’s real assets and earnings that its P/E ratio verges on the infinite.

Whatever we’re driving toward, it is very different from anchoring certainties that have grounded us for generations, if not for the duration of our species. It seems we are on the cusp of a new and radically different reality. Let’s call it Reality 2.0.

The label has a millenial quality, and a technical one as well. If Reality 2.0 is Reality 2.000, this month we’re in Reality 1.995.12.

With only a few revisions left before Reality 2.0 arrives, we’re in a good position to start seeing what awaits. Here are just a few of the things this writer is starting to see…

  1. As more customers come into direct contact with suppliers, markets for suppliers will change from target populationsto conversations.
  2. Travel, ticket, advertising and PR agencies will all find new ways to add value, or they will be subtracted from market relationships that no longer require them.
  3. Within companies, marketing communications will change from peripheral activities to core competencies.New media will flourish on the Web, and old media will learn to live with the Web and take advantage of it.
  4. Retail space will complement cyber space. Customer and technical service will change dramatically, as 800 numbers yield to URLs and hard copy documents yield to soft copy versions of the same thing… but in browsable, searchable forms.
  5. Shipping services of all kinds will bloom. So will fulfillment services. So will ticket and entertainment sales services.
  6. The web’s search engines will become the new yellow pages for the whole world. Your fingers will still do the walking, but they won’t get stained with ink. Same goes for the white pages. Also the blue ones.
  7. The scope of the first person plural will enlarge to include the whole world. “We” may mean everybody on the globe, or any coherent group that inhabits it, regardless of location. Each of us will swing from group to group like monkeys through trees.
  8. National borders will change from barricades and toll booths into speed bumps and welcome mats.
  9. The game will be over for what teacher John Taylor Gatto labels “the narcotic we call television.” Also for the industrial relic of compulsory education. Both will be as dead as the mainframe business. In other words: still trucking, but not as the anchoring norms they used to be.
  10. Big Business will become as anachronistic as Big Government, because institutional mass will lose leverage without losing inertia.Domination will fail where partnering succeeds, simply because partners with positive sums will combine to outproduce winners and losers with zero sums.
  11. Right will make might.
  12. And might will be mighty different.

Polyopoly

The Web is the board for a new game Phil Salin called “Polyopoly.” As Phil described it, Polyopoly is the opposite of Monopoly. The idea is not to win a fight over scarce real estate, but to create a farmer’s market for the boundless fruits of the human mind.

It’s too bad Phil didn’t live to see the web become what he (before anyone, I believe) hoped to create with AMIX: “the first efficient marketplace for information.” The result of such a marketplace, Phil said, would be polyopoly.

In Monopoly, what mattered were the three Ls of real estate: “location, location and location.”

On the web, location means almost squat.

What matters on the web are the three Cs: contentconnections and convenience. These are what make your home page a door the world beats a path to when it looks for the better mouse trap that only you sell. They give your webfront estate its real value.

If commercial interests have their way with the Web, we can also add a fourth C: cost. But how high can costs go in a polyopolistic economy? Not very. Because polyopoly creates…

An economy of abundance

The goods of Polyopoly and Monopoly are as different as love and lug nuts. Information is made by minds, not factories; and it tends to make itself abundant, not scarce. Moreover, scarce information tends to be worthless information.

Information may be bankable, but traditional banking, which secures and contains scarce commodities (or their numerical representations) does not respect the nature of information.

Because information abhors scarcity. It loves to reproduce, to travel, to multiply. Its natural habitats are wires and airwaves and disks and CDs and forums and books and magazines and web pages and hot links and chats over cappuccinos at Starbucks. This nature lends itself to polyopoly.

Polyopoly’s rules are hard to figure because the economy we are building with it is still new, and our vocabulary for describing it is sparse.

This is why we march into the Information Age hobbled by industrial metaphors. The “information highway” is one example. Here we use the language of freight forwarding to describe the movement of music, love, gossip, jokes, ideas and other communicable forms of knowledge that grow and change as they move from mind to mind.

We can at least say that knowledge, even in its communicable forms, is not reducible to data. Nor is the stuff we call “intellectual property.” A song and a bank account do not propagate the same ways. But we are inclined to say they do (and should), because we describe both with the same industrial terms.

All of which is why there is no more important work in this new economy than coining the new terms we use to describe it.

The Age of Enlightenment finally arrives

The best place to start looking for help is at the dawn of the Industrial Age. Because this was when the Age of Reason began. Nobody knew more about the polyopoly game — or played it — better than those champions of reason from whose thinking our modern republics are derived: Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

As Jon Katz says in “The Age of Paine” (Wired, May 1995 ), Thomas Paine was the the “moral father of the Internet.” Paine said “my country is the world,” and sought as little compensation as possible for his work, because he wanted it to be inexpensive and widely read. Paine’s thinking still shapes the politics of the U.S., England and France, all of which he called home.

Thomas Jefferson wrote the first rule of Polyopoly: “He who receives an idea from me receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.”

He also left a live bomb for modern intellectual property law: “Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.” The best look at the burning fuse is John Perry Barlow’s excellent essay “The Economy of Ideas,” in the March 1994 issue of Wired. (I see that Jon Katz repeats it in his paean to Paine. Hey, if someone puts it to song, who gets the rights?)

If Paine was the moral father of the Internet, Ben Franklin’s paternity is apparent in Silicon Valley. Today he’d fit right in, inventing hot products, surfing the Web and spreading his wit and wisdom like a Johnny Cyberseed. Hell, he even has the right haircut.

Franklin left school at 10 and was barely 15 when he ran his brother’s newspaper, writing most of its content and getting quoted all over Boston. He was a self-taught scientist and inventor while still working as a writer and publisher. He also found time to discover electricity, create the world’s first postal service, invent a heap of handy products and serve as a politician and diplomat.

Franklin’s biggest obsession was time. He scheduled and planned constantly. He even wrote his famous epitaph when he was 22, six decades before he died. “The work shall not be lost,” it reads, “for it will (as he believed) appear once more in a new and more elegant edition, revised and edited by the author.”

One feels the ghost of Franklin today, editing the web.

Time to subtract the garbage

Combine Jefferson and Franklin and you get the two magnetic poles that tug at every polyopoly player: information that only gets more abundant, and time that only gets more scarce.

As Alain Couder of Groupe Bull puts it, “we treat time as a constant in all these formulas — revolutions per minute, instructions per second — yet we experience time as something that constantly decreases.”

After all, we’re born with an unknown sum of time, and we need to spend it all before we die. The notion of “saving” it is absurd. Time can only be spent.

So: to play Polyopoly well, we need to waste as little time as possible. This is not easy in a world where the sum of information verges on the infinite.

Which is why I think Esther Dyson might be our best polyopoly player.

“There’s too much noise out there anyway,” she says in ‘Esther Dyson on DaveNet‘ (12/1/94). “The new wave is not value added, it’s garbage-subtracted.”

Here’s a measure of how much garbage she subtracts from her own life: her apartment doesn’t even have a phone.

Can she play this game, or what?

So what’s left?

I wouldn’t bother to ask Esther if she watches television, or listens to the radio. I wouldn’t ask my wife, either. To her, television is exactly what Fred Allen called it forty years ago: “chewing gum for the eyes.” Ours heats up only for natural disasters and San Jose Sharks games.

Dean Landsman, a sharp media observer from the broadcast industry, tells me that John Gresham books are cutting into time that readers would otherwise spend watching television. And that’s just the beginning of a tide that will swell as every medium’s clients weigh more carefully what they do with their time.

Which is why it won’t be long before those clients wad up their television time and stick it under their computer. “Media will eat media,” Dean says.

The computer is looking a lot hungrier than the rest of the devices out there. Next to connected computing, television is AM radio.

Fasten your seat belts.

Web of the free, home of the Huns

Think of the Industrial world — the world of Big Business and Big Government — as a modern Roman Empire.

Now think of Bill Gates as Attilla the Hun.

Because that’s exactly how Bill looks to the Romans who still see the web, and everything else in the world, as a monopoly board. No wonder Bill doesn’t have a senator in his pocket (as Mark Stahlman told us in ‘Off to the Slaughter House,’ (DaveNet, 3/14/94).

Sadly for the the Romans, their empire is inhabited almost entirely by Huns, all working away on their PCs. Most of those Huns don’t have a problem with Bill. After all, Bill does a fine job of empowering his people, and they keep electing him with their checkbooks, credit cards and purchase orders.

Which is why, when they go forth to tame the web, these tough-talking Captains of Industry and Leaders of Government look like animated mannequins in Armani Suits: clothes with no emperor. Their content is emulation. They drone about serving customers and building architectures and setting standards and being open and competing on level playing fields. But their game is still control, no matter what else they call it.

Bill may be our emperor, but ruling Huns is not the same as ruling Romans. You have to be naked as a fetus and nearly as innocent. Because polyopoly does not reward the dark tricks that used to work for industry, government and organized crime. Those tricks worked in a world where darkness had leverage, where you could fool some of the people some of the time, and that was enough.

But polyopoly is a positive-sum game. Its goods are not produced by huge industries that control the world, but by smart industries that enable the world’s inhabitants. Like the PC business that thrives on it, information grows up from individuals, not down from institutions. Its economy thrives on abundance rather than scarcity. Success goes to enablers, not controllers. And you don’t enable people by fooling them. Or by manipulating them. Or by muscling them.

In fact, you don’t even play to win. As Craig Burton of The Burton Group puts it, “the goal isn’t win/win, it’s play/play.”

This is why Bill does not “control” his Huns the way IBM controlled its Romans. Microsoft plays by winning support, where IBM won by dominating the play. Just because Microsoft now holds a controlling position does not mean that a controlling mentality got them there. What I’ve seen from IBM and Apple looks far more Monopoly-minded and controlling than anything I’ve seen from Microsoft.

Does this mean that Bill’s manners aren’t a bit Roman at times? No. Just that the support Microsoft enjoys is a lot more voluntary on the part of its customers, users and partners. It also means that Microsoft has succeeded by playing Polyopoly extremely well. When it tries to play Monopoly instead, the Huns don’t like it. Bill doesn’t need the Feds to tell him when that happens. The Huns tell him soon enough.

market is a conversation

No matter how Roman Bill’s fantasies might become, he knows his position is hardly more substantial than a conversation. In fact, it IS a conversation.

I would bet that Microsoft is engaged in more conversations, more of the time, with more customers and partners, than any other company in the world. Like or hate their work, the company connects. I submit that this, as much as anything else, accounts for its success.

In the Industrial Age, a market was a target population. Goods rolled down a “value chain” that worked like a conveyor belt. Raw materials rolled into one end and finished products rolled out the other. Customers bought the product or didn’t, and customer feedback was limited mostly to the money it spent.

To encourage customer spending, “messages” were “targeted” at populations, through advertising, PR and other activities. The main purpose of these one-way communications was to stimulate sales. That model is obsolete. What works best to day is what Normann & Ramirez (Harvard Business Review, June/July 1993) call a “value constellation” of relationships that include customers, partners, suppliers, resellers, consultants, contractors and all kinds of people.

The Web is the star field within which constellations of companies, products and markets gather themselves. And what binds them together, in each case, are conversations.

How it all adds up

What we’re creating here is a new economy — an information economy.

Behind the marble columns of big business and big government, this new economy stands in the lobby like a big black slab. The primates who work behind those columns don’t know what this thing is, but they do know it’s important and good to own. The problem is, they can’t own it. Nobody can. Because it defies the core value in all economies based on physical goods: scarcity.

Scarcity ruled the stone hearts and metal souls of every zero-sum value system that ever worked — usually by producing equal quantities of gold and gore. And for dozens of millennia, we suffered with it. If Tribe A crushed Tribe B, it was too bad for Tribe B. Victors got the spoils.

This win/lose model has been in decline for some time. Victors who used to get spoils now just get responsibilities. Cooperation and partnership are now more productive than competition and domination. Why bomb your enemy when you can get him on the phone and do business with him? Why take sides when the members of “us” and “them” constantly change?

The hard evidence is starting to come in. A recent Wharton Impact report said, “Firms which specified their objectives as ‘beating our competitors’ or ‘gaining market share’ earned substantially lower profits over the period.” We’re reading stories about women-owned businesses doing better, on the whole, because women are better at communicating and less inclined to waste energy by playing sports and war games in their marketplaces.

From the customer’s perspective, what we call “competition” is really a form of cooperation that produces abundant choices. Markets are created by addition and multiplication, not just by subtraction and division.

In my old Mac IIci, I can see chips and components from at least 11 different companies and 8 different countries. Is this evidence of war among Apple’s suppliers? Do component vendors succeed by killing each other and limiting choices for their customers? Did Apple’s engineers say, “Gee, let’s help Hitachi kill Philips on this one?” Were they cheering for one “side” or another? The answer should be obvious.

But it isn’t, for two reasons. One is that the “Dominator Model,” as anthropologist (and holocaust survivor) Riane Eisler calls it, has been around for 20,000 years, and until recently has reliably produced spoils for victors. The other is that conflict always makes great copy. To see how seductive conflict-based thinking is, try to find a hot business story that isn’t filled with sports and war metaphors. It isn’t easy.

Bound by the language of conflict, most of us still believe that free enterprise runs on competition between “sides” driven by urges to dominate, and that the interests of those “sides” are naturally opposed.

To get to the truth here, just ask this: which has produced more — the U.S. vs. Japan, or the U.S. + Japan? One produced World War II and a lot of bad news. The other produced countless marvels — from cars to consumer electronics — on which the whole world depends.

Now ask this: which has produced more — Apple vs. Microsoft or Apple + Microsoft? One profited nobody but the lawyers, and the other gave us personal computing as we know it today.

The Plus Paradigm

What brings us to Reality 2.0 is the Plus Paradigm.

The Plus Paradigm says that our world is a positive construction, and that the best games produce positive sums for everybody. It recognizes the power of information and the value of abundance. (Think about it: the best information may have the highest power to abound, and its value may vary as the inverse of its scarcity.)

Over the last several years, mostly through discussions with client companies that are struggling with changes that invalidate long-held assumptions, I have built table of old (Reality 1.0) vs. new (Reality 2.0) paradigms. The difference between these two realities, one client remarked, is that the paradigm on the right is starting to work better than the paradigm on the left.

Paradigm Reality 1.0 Reality 2.0
Means to ends Domination Partnership
Cause of progress Competition Collaboration
Center of interest Personal Social
Concept of systems Closed Open
Dynamic Win/Lose Play/Play
Roles Victor/Victim Partner/Ally
Primary goods Capital Information
Source of leverage Monopoly Polyopoly
Organization Hierarchy Flexiarchy
Roles Victor/Victim Server/Client
Scope of self-interest Self/Nation Self/World
Source of power Might Right
Source of value Scarcity Abundance
Stage of growth Child (selfish) Adult (social)
Reference valuables Metal, Money Life, Time
Purpose of boundaries Protection Limitation

Changes across the paradigms show up as positive “reality shifts.” The shift is from OR logic to AND logic, from Vs. to +:

 

Reality 1.0 Reality 2.0
man vs nature man + nature
Labor vs management Labor + management
Public vs private Public + private
Men vs women Men + women
Us vs them Us + them
Majority vs minority Majority + minority
Party vs party Party + party
Urban vs rural Urban + rural
Black vs white Black + white
Business vs govt. Business + govt.

The Plus Paradigm comprehends the world as a positive construction, and sees that the best games produce positive sums for everybody. It recognizes the power of information and the value of abundance. (Think about it: the best information may have the highest power to abound, and its value may vary as the inverse of its scarcity.)

For more about this whole way of thinking, see Bernie DeKoven’s ideas about “the ME/WE” at his “virtual playground.”]

This may sound sappy, but information works like love: when you give it away, you still get to keep it. And when you give it back, it grows.

Which has always been the case. But in Reality 2.0, it should become a lot more obvious.

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