Web Politics


Crowdfunding is a really great idea. It is simultaneously a really crappy idea. Needless to say, like most things, it’s human greed and the relentless pursuit of money that determines which of those two things it is for any given case.

I like the idea behind crowdfunding, and have invested in a number of terrific projects. I’ve even run a crowdfunder of my own, with moderate success. When I choose crowdfunders in which to participate, I’m as careful as I can be to vet them for plausibility and likelihood of success – there is obviously no point in sticking your money in something that is based on pseudoscience, for example, as so many are. Nor is it worth participating in something that is just unachievable due to someone’s inability to grasp basic laws of physics. So I choose my allegiances cautiously.

It is, therefore, hugely disappointing for me to have invested in a crowdfunder that tanks, as did the ARKYD Space Telescope Kickstarter yesterday.

A few years back, a company called Planetary Resources launched the Kickstarter for a publicly funded space telescope – “a space telescope for everyone” – with the promise of a ‘selfie in space’ as one of the primary perks. This entailed contributors being able to upload an image of their choice to a screen on the ARKYD telescope, and then having it rephotographed in orbit high above the earth. As perks go, that’s a pretty damn catchy one. The eventual goal of the project was to facilitate public accessibility to time on an actual space-telescope. There was to be a particular emphasis on affordable access for educational institutions and other bodies and persons who would otherwise never be able to afford such opportunities. Wow, what a cool thing, right?

The ARKYD Project Kickstarter was asking for $1 million (a substantial figure by crowdfunder standards) to achieve its aims, and it made the milepost easily, quickly surpassing it by another half million. The Kickstarter project assessment made it quite clear that such an undertaking was not without risks, and indeed, the ARKYD encountered a few of them, including the explosion of an early launch vehicle. Not many Kickstarters can claim that kind of setback, but it is, after all, rocket science. All that taken under consideration, the ARKYD Kickstarter presented as a very well thought-out achievable project, with a highly-credentialled engineering and development team, a lengthy but plausible production schedule and most encouragingly of all, a great deal of support from science experts, space science advocates and fans across the planet. When I invested in ARKYD, I was completely confident that these people could deliver.

So I was pretty taken aback when – without any warning at all – Planetary Resources announced that they were shutting down their Kickstarter. I was especially dissatisfied with the reasons given by Chris Lewicki, PR’s President and Chief Engineer, for the abandonment of the project:

When we closed the campaign in June of 2013, we were confident that the tremendous enthusiasm from around the world would translate into continued financial support outside of the Kickstarter community to move our idea forward… but, what we discovered was unfortunate. Aside from all the progress we made in the underlying technology, the follow-on interest from the business and educational sectors to expand the ARKYD campaign into a fully-supported mission did not exist as we had anticipated. We have explored and exhausted a variety of opportunities big and small for the financial backing necessary to complete the project.

You see, nowhere in the original Kickstarter pitch is it mentioned that the project is contingent upon this ‘follow-on interest from the business and educational sectors’. In fact, re-reading it, as I just did, gives exactly the opposite impression: that the money raised is more than enough to do the job, even prompting a host of ‘stretch goals’ to further enhance the scope of possibility. Like most people, I have no clue how much it costs to put a small satellite in space, and while I did vaguely wonder if a million bucks was a tad ambitious, what would I know, really? I mean, I’d given my money to experts. Like the other seventeen & a half thousand backers, I was hugely excited by the proposed outcome of space science for ‘all the wonder junkies out there’ as PR so colourfully put it in their promotional video. Lewicki’s announcement makes it sound like the only thing the money was used for was the development of the technology. I want you to keep that thought in mind as we continue.

Those of you who’ve been following this saga might at this point be interjecting that Planetary Resources is offering a refund to all backers on application, so what’s the beef? Yes, it’s true – all investors in ARKYD have been invited to claim full refund of their money, as of this morning. That seems fair enough – generous, even, considering that there are truckloads of crowdfunders that go under without so much as a thankyou note.

There is, however, a backstory that casts quite a different light on this ‘generosity’. Planetary Resources’ ARKYD ‘space telescope for everyone’ has been iced, but the company itself has just raised over $21 million for their Ceres project, an array of earth-observation satellites – ARKYD-like space telescopes – that are designed to monitor natural resources for anyone who wants to pay for the information.

That little satellite telescope in the picture there? That’s the ARKYD that we all expected to see doing publicly-funded space science.

You see what just happened, right? The $1.5 million that optimistic, excited kids (and adults) funnelled into Planetary Resources ARKYD Space Telescope, was essentially an interest-free loan to a mining company to help them develop their technology.

Now Planetary Resources has never hidden their mining ambitions. They make a big deal on their website about their future as an ‘asteroid mining’ company. But this is something quite different. If it had been presented to most people that they would be contributing their dollars interest free to a company whose aim was to make money out of exploiting the natural resources of the earth, I’m pretty damn sure the ARKYD Kickstarter wouldn’t have raised a cent.

I’m fuming angry at Planetary Resources. Their $21.1 million dollar windfall will allow them to pay back their ‘loan’ from the ARKYD project and still leave them a cool 20 mill to set up a system that will let them put their greedy hands deep into the grubby pockets of mining companies all over the world. Worst of all, they just couldn’t be bothered delivering on their promise to give enthusiastic young people the opportunity to be part of humanity’s great space adventure. It appears that they thought the whole ‘space telescope for everyone’ business was just one big headache that got in the way of earning money.(i).

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Footnotes:

  1. I quite understand that it now looks probable that to continue with ARKYD would have cost them something more than just abandoning the project outright and refunding everyone’s money – but that’s the whole pivot of my objection to what has happened. If this wasn’t going to be achievable from the outset with the money requested from the Kickstarter, then they’ve just fucked up, which is not a great endorsement of a their business acumen – investors take note. Not only that, they lied to their contributors after the project was scuttled, by telling them that the whole viability of ARKYD was entirely speculative and contingent upon attracting what we must now assume to be substantial investment from other sources. I, for one, would have been much more cautious about forking out if I’d known that. On the other hand, if Planetary Resources does know what they’re doing, then they simply exploited the good nature of kids and adults who thought they were getting to be part of a great space adventure. EITHER WAY, these people look bad []

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If you have any finger at all dipped in the vast ocean of blather that is social media, you can’t fail to have noticed yesterday’s flurry of hand-waving over some comments made by internet luminaries Will Wheaton and Matt (The Oatmeal) Inman. For those who aren’t mainlining Facebook and Twitter, and didn’t catch it, the whole thing revolved around the Huffington Post doing what it does – sucking content from anywhere it likes without paying for it, and then regurgitating it to the world – and Wheaton and Inman getting on the wrong end of that deal (the ‘without getting paid’ end).

In Wheaton’s case, the Huffington Post wanted to use a previous post from his blog, but declined to offer any compensation when he asked for them to actually fork out for it. Wheaton wrote about it, quite reasonably, in a piece entitled “You Can’t Pay Your Rent With “the unique platform and reach our site provides”” riffing on his earlier Twitter comments “Writers and bloggers: if you write something that an editor thinks is worth being published, you are worth being paid for it. Period.” and “This advice applies to designers, photographers, programmers, ANYONE who makes something. You. Deserve. Compensation. For. Your. Work.”

As for Inman, the HuffPo hotlinked one of his Oatmeal strips, and he then quickly link-spoofed them with an image that said “Dear Huffington Post. Please don’t hotlink images without permission. It costs me money to host these. Here’s my monthly bill”, with said bill attached. This morning, he followed it up with an amusing cartoon commentary.

At least they asked Wheaton whether they could use his stuff. They just pinched Inman’s. Well, the internet version of pinching, anyway.

Now, I’ll say right off the blocks, that I like and respect both these guys. I’ve been a fan for years. If the internet is about anything at all, it’s about the kinds of things they do: Inman amuses, makes admirable social commentary and raises money for good causes. Wheaton entertains, makes admirable social commentary and, well, entertains. And yes, he also uses his geek celebrity to aid worthwhile causes too.

In a general philosophical sense, I also agree with what they’re saying here; it’s reasonable to expect that if a money-making venture such as the Huffington Post wants to use your artistic content to help their advertising revenue, then it’s worth more than just their fond appreciation for your efforts.

In my opinion, there is, however, something of a problem with the high moral ground that both Wheaton and Inman are occupying here. They are being just a teensy bit disingenuous. It comes about because of the stature that each of them has gained from the currency that they are dismissing with such disdain. That currency is exposure.

From where I stand, the equation looks very different to what I expect it does to Will Wheaton or Matt Inman. If I was given the same deal as Wheaton, and the HuffPo asked if they could carry this very article, what am I going to do? If they offer me the ‘exposure’ deal, my options are to take it and get exposure or don’t take it and reach my usual two dozen readers. No-one doubts that the best outcome would be to get paid and get the exposure, but likewise, it should be obvious to pretty much anyone that the worst deal is to end up with no money and no exposure. It’s all very well for Wheaton and Inman to tell other people that they should accept nothing less than proper recompense for their efforts, but they are not other people.

As I said some years ago in my post The King is Dead! Long Live the King!, we are now in an age where creative content is worth – in monetary terms – exactly (and only) what people are prepared to pay for it. You can put whatever pecuniary value you like upon it, but that’s completely arbitrary in the eyes of anyone else.

The problem is not an easy one to parse. I’m a creator, and my stuff is indisputably worth a few coins. Isn’t it? But what? Is it worth as much as Will Wheaton’s stuff or Matt Inman’s stuff? No? Then why not? You see what’s going on here, don’t you? There’s a level of artistic value – and corresponding monetary value – assigned to the work of those guys, but how do you calculate the worth of that? I’m going to put it out there that it’s not just value based on the work itself, but rather a combination of things including how much exposure they get. Sure, they do good stuff, but without the exposure, the good stuff is only worth something to the two dozen loyal followers of their blog/band/comic/games-club newsletter. LOTS of people do good stuff.

And that’s the crux of it: with so much stuff being done – and so much good stuff being done – with so many artists and musicians and writers doing their thing, it’s very very hard to rise above the noise. Money is nice to have, but in the great big ocean that is the internet, without exposure, you’ve got nothing. Proper compensation depends a lot on where exactly you are in the food chain. Matt and Will can afford to say no to the HuffPo because it really doesn’t matter to them – they need neither money, nor exposure.

Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m defending the Huffington Post here – I’m really not. I think that they’re unprincipled opportunists (there goes my chance of HuffPo glory) and that they’re wrong to exploit the talents and hard work of others in order to line their own coffers. As long as people are willing to provide them free content, though, this exploitation is never going to go away. I think you can work out, without me putting it down in detail, that there are a lot of reasons that people will continue to provide their content – good content – for free. As I have said in the past, if you are an artist or a writer or a musician, the people doing that are your competition. It’s just entirely irrelevant insisting that your art is worth something if no-one wants to actually pay for it. Whether you like it or not, that’s the world in which we now exist, and it’s simply pointless raising a fist and shaking it at that fact.

It comes down to basic commonsense and survival strategies. Sure, your efforts have value, but the value might not necessarily be financial. If that value can be parlayed into money, great. If it can’t, then decide whether there is other opportunity to be had. If that opportunity is exposure, and you could use some exposure, then take it. If that opportunity is connection, and you need connections, then take it. If there is no advantage in making a deal, then don’t make the deal. The only bad exchange is one where you feel an inequality exists. But don’t let someone else tell you what that inequality is.

Matt Inman and Will Wheaton undoubtedly have your best interests at heart. They’ve just forgotten that as you’re attempting to get your head above the crowd, you sometimes don’t have the luxury of insisting on your principles.

As much as I’m disparaging of journalists, I do encounter, very occasionally, some smart ones. Annabel Crabb, from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is such a writer. You may remember my very long post about modern artistic endeavour The King is Dead! Long Live the King! in which I discussed how we’ve come to value art (in a monetary sense) and speculated on its true worth. I did speak briefly about the status quo of journalism in that post, but mostly concerned myself with my own field of music.

It’s encouraging for me to see Annabel asking, in her article Finding a coin for the journalistic juke box, some of the same questions I did. When you propose an heretical idea, it’s nice to know that you’re not actually mad.



I really love a good mystery! In my last post Desperate? I talked about the apparent spamming of my (and others’) blog comments by Microsoft. Cow reader Damned Skeptic took me to task about this conclusion, and I defended my logic in the Comments of that post.

In a nutshell, what I said was that given that 99.9% of all the comment spam I get is about link hoarding, what evidence is there that the Bing (and also Yahoo) links were not cut from the same cloth? To me it looks like someone is trying to get some link action happening for those sites.

Except…

This morning I was inundated with a whole lot of spam such as this one from ‘Datherine':

Here’s where Datherine is linking:

Now, is that not totally bizarre? Firstly, I will acquiesce: it’s fairly conclusive evidence that my first hypothesis was incorrect. I doubt that ALL the search engines are attempting to up their ranking like this. That would just be ridiculous. But what IS going on, then?

One thing that I can tell you is that Akismet (my spam filter) is on top of this – look at the stuff that was scooped up overnight:

There were dozens like this. These, of course, are all generated by bots and are easy to screen, unlike the spumans I mentioned yesterday. But look at those links! Way to add some pile carpet to the noise floor. Why would anyone want to generate lots of links to just any search engine? What are we seeing here? Are the big search engines involved in some kind of clandestine link deluge war? Is there any relevance in the fact that all the attempted links from yesterday and the day before were exclusively Bing and Yahoo, and this morning, for the first time, it’s Google? Wow.

Another thing I can tell you is that this spam was targeting my most visited pages, such as the FAQ, the Rasputin contests and some of my Peter Popoff posts. There is definitely some method behind this madness…

For most of you, Tetherd Cow is an unfolding story of antics in Cow World that plays out on a fairly linear daily or weekly basis. You know how it goes – I post a story, you comment, we have a some fun repartee and then we move on. Very civilized. But because I have an expansive overview of The Cow (a Cowish ‘omnipotence’ as it were) the Cowiverse looks somewhat different to me. I see a whole lot of stuff to which you are not privvy. There is, for example, activity that occurs way back in time, in posts that have had their moment in the sun and are never visited again except by the occasional lost web traveller. Or by spammers. Spammers discovered long ago that the vast hinterland of forgotten blog comments provides another fertile venue for their pathetic attempts to hawk various car insurance/viagra/cheap mortgage/locksmith(i) schemes. Because visiting millions of blogs and posting comments is (quite obviously) a tedious and time consuming task, the spammers have mostly relegated this drudgework to bots. Sometimes very clever bots, but bots all the same. Bots are mostly pretty easy to defeat, and these days most bot comments get swept up by blog spam utilities and never see the light of day.(ii)

Recently, though, a new spamming ruse appears to be on the rise. This technique requires real people to spend time browsing around blogs and posting comments and linking their names to some crap or other.(iii) Here’s one that I got yesterday:

This was a comment left on my post Ooze which you may remember concerned the curious fungus that once appeared in my backyard. On the face of it, ‘Jeff’ appears to be taking an interest in the post and leaving a pertinent comment – he is obviously not a bot.

What the spammers don’t appear to understand, though, is that when a commenter leaves his or her mark on TCA comments, I can tell all kinds of things about them other than just their email address and their name. I know, for instance, that while Jeff Morgan is (most likely) a real person, with a real Bigpond email address, it is not the real Jeff Morgan who has visited my blog. Someone has stolen his name and email address for the purposes of making their spam look legitimate. The clue to Fake Jeff’s real agenda is written clear in two places – one is in his IP address which comes out of Pakistan, and the other is in ‘his’ website which is easily recognizable(iv) as a ‘front-door’ for a spam operation linking off to various kinds of crummy products.(v)

As is usual in these cases, I leave the comment intact and ‘repair’ the weblink to take it somewhere a little more useful.(vi) This morning though, I got a rather intriguing one of these ‘comments’ from ‘Mircea':

This one appeared in my post We’re All DOOMED! as a reply to Cissy Strutt. Unlike Jeff’s comment, it only half makes sense, but I have had far more incomprehensible legitimate comments in my time. ‘Mircea’ evidently thinks that by embedding it in the flow of commenting (he/she would have to have physically clicked the ‘Reply’ button) that it would go unnoticed.(vii) But I don’t see comments the same way as commenters do, and for me it’s a trivial exercise to spot it as spam. Here’s part of what I see:

Did you see the very interesting thing here, Cowpokes? ‘Mircea’ appears to be spamming for Microsoft. Oh, I’m sure that Microsoft would deny having anything to do with such a practice. They would, most likely, claim that anyone can type any URL in the web field and that they can’t be held responsible for random punters being fans of their search engine. But It is easy for me to see that ‘Mircea’ is not a legitimate entity: she/he has an IP in Quebec and an ISP in Germany – a very curious and probably impossible combination. Additionally, this is not the only one of these I’ve had in recent times.

There is a bit of discussion going on about this elsewhere, and one suggestion has been that the Bing URL is being truncated in some way and that Bing (and Yahoo as it turns out)(viii) are just victims of a software snafu. But I want to point out that the way these blog commenting systems work does not support that conclusion – if people are physically reading the posts and entering comments, they are also physically entering the URLs they have been given to promote. To put it in clear terms, ‘Mircea’ is a fraudulent identity who has visited an historically distant Tetherd Cow Ahead post with the sole intention of leaving a link to Bing.

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Footnotes:

  1. Yes. A New York locksmith and his pals were, apparently, touring the blogosphere and leaving comments in an attempt to boost their linkability. Rather sad, really. []
  2. My spam tools automatically shift such comments into the spam graveyard without me even being aware of them. On average, TCA gets about forty of these a day. []
  3. The technical reason they do this is to increase the number of legitimate websites ‘linking’ to their garbage product. This, in turn, increases their search ranking in various engines. Search engines find it easy to defeat standard spambot link farming, but this kind of ‘human’ bot requires (so far) human brains to intercept. And not only that, human brains that understand the context of their own blogs. []
  4. By a person, at least. []
  5. Typically, these ‘front’-door’ sites are set up as link farms into products that the spammer has been paid to ‘advertise’. They are disposable sites that will be abandoned as soon as they are busted, only to spring up somewhere else in a matter of minutes. The spammers probably have thousands of them on the shelf, ready to go. []
  6. I usually redirect it to the JREF, because I think if there’s one thing we could do with a whole heap more of in this world, it’s some rational thinking. Can’t ever have too many links to the JREF. Did I mention the JREF? []
  7. And I guess on a lot of blogs maybe it would have. []
  8. I’ve also had several linked off to Yahoo. []

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You will remember that a little while back we learned that Rupert Murdoch, using his needle-sharp insight into how people use the internet, stumbled on the notion that it would be a good idea to start charging visitors to read the online version of his flagship newspaper The Times. Consequently, the last month has seen The Times subscription gateway come into operation and readers have been asked to sign up (without paying) before they can get access to stories on The Times site. Here’s a graph that reflects the status of readership figures for various online UK newspapers since April.

Notice anything? And need I point out that this graph reflects only the sign-up process – no money has so far changed hands. Now, to my eye that looks like The Times online has lost nearly half its readers in a month. And the curve doesn’t look like it’s intending to taper off anytime soon, and that’s before we get to the point of actual money being forked out.(i)

Rory Cellan-Jones, on his blog at the BBC, has speculated that The Times really only has to hang on to about 5% of its former readership ‘to have the champagne corks popping in Wapping’. I predict that the readership will fall right through that number and bottom out at nearly zero. Rory puts his finger right on it in his post:

My suspicion is that the main problem with this experiment is what I’d call friction. Web users have got used to clicking simply from one page to another without hindrance. Any element of friction – the aggravation of having to pay or just log in – acts as an incentive to head elsewhere in a hurry. I tried an experiment this morning, posting a link on Twitter to an article by the very funny Times columnist Caitlin Moran. Plenty of people clicked on the link – but when they were taken directly to the Times pay-station, they all appear to have left without paying.

To anyone who’s been looking at web media for any length of time, this is truly a no-brainer. Why would you bother? Rupert is pinning all his hopes on one single idea: that people care enough about the quality of the journalism (and whatever else The Times has to offer) to pay for it.(ii)

Rupert, I’m sorry to say that the 21st Century is going to give you a bigger ass-walloping than you ever thought possible.

Let me explain it in a way that even Mr Murdoch might understand. Are you sitting comfortably? Very well, let’s begin.

Once upon a time, when horses and buggies were the fastest forms of transport and people cleaned chimneys by crawling up them with big brooms, accounts of what was happening in ‘the world’ started to get circulated via a system called ‘the newspaper‘. The newspaper gathered up a collection of what its publishers deemed the most relevant and interesting bits of news and gossip of the moment, and then distributed them to the community. The newspaper was a marvellous idea for its time, but, for all its charm and utility it did have some limitations: it was largely a local phenomenon, it cost money to make and deliver to the people who wanted it, and it had a kind of inbuilt time delay (if news happened, you had to wait till the next newspaper was made in order to know about it). But because it was a physical object, and it was a convenient way of learning about the latest goings-on in the world, people were prepared to pay some small amount of money to take possession of their daily newspaper. Plus, you could wrap fish & chips in it when you’d finished reading it. (It also had another limitation, but one that few people were aware of at the time: it was a one way street. That is, the newspaper could tell you things, but you could not reply to those things, nor enquire after their veracity.)

Eventually, after a few decades of news distribution of this form, a few cunning people realised that if they could gain control of the newspaper business on a large enough scale, they could earn themselves quite a bit of money. And so newspaper tycoons came into existence. The object of being a newspaper tycoon was to gather up as many small local newspapers as you could find, and either put them out of business, or amalgamate them into your empire. This concept made a small number of crafty men (for they were ALL men) very wealthy indeed. It had the added bonus, for those men, of giving them extraordinary political power, because after all, they controlled what people knew about the world. This state of affairs existed for the better part of a century, with the newspapers becoming more and more ubiquitous and the newspaper men more and more wealthy and more and more powerful.

But then, late in the 20th century, a completely unexpected thing happened – a wonderful piece of technology called ‘the internet‘ came along. The internet was really nothing more than a way in which everyone on the planet could easily and instantly talk to everybody else, no matter how geographically separated they were. It was a simple but powerful idea. And the more people who understood this idea, the more powerful it became. Before anybody really even knew what was happening the internet became connected to all kinds of places across the whole world, and people happily discovered that news and gossip and all kinds of other information could now be exchanged rapidly and for free. People liked that! And the internet was unlike the newspaper in one very important way: nobody ‘owned’ it and nobody could own it.(iii)

So who do you think were the most unhappy about this state of affairs? That’s right – the newspaper tycoons. They were VERY VERY upset, indeed. People were talking to each other and learning about their world for free! What a terrible, terrible thing!

Thanks to their innate carnivorous business instincts, though, the tycoons became aware very rapidly that this ‘internet’ was something quite big and important, and they could see that people had taken to it like ducks to water. Unfortunately they could only see this through spectacles that had little dollar signs embossed all across the lenses, and so their vision was not very clear. The first thing they did was to nab themselves some real estate on this internet thingy. After all, it was FREE, what did they have to lose? Of course, the people who were already on the internet were happy to see their old friends from the newspaper business there and started visiting these new sites from the old guard – but they didn’t just hang out at one newspaper… oh no! They were now reading six or seven or maybe even ten newspapers, and not just newspapers from their home town either! And not only that, they were getting news from sites that weren’t actually newspaper sites but had news anyway, like blogs and ezines and social networks and all manner of other strange ideas! All for free!

The newspaper tycoons weren’t used to the concept of ‘free’. It was not something that was in their world view. When they said the word ‘free’, as they sometimes did, they meant ‘we’re giving you a nice little morsel but it has a hook hidden inside it’. The concept of ‘free’ as in ‘you can get it with no strings attached’ was as alien to the newspaper tycoons as was the idea of travelling economy class, so they looked upon what was happening on the Internet with a great deal of bewilderment and frustration. All these people were here doing stuff and hanging around but the tycoons couldn’t figure out a way to make money from it! How they hated that! How dare people amuse themselves!

So instead of making some kind of effort to understand what was going on with the Internet, as some of their cleverer and less mercenary colleagues did, the tycoons contrived to do the least effective thing possible: they attempted to make the Internet play by their Old Rules. Unfortunately, the people using the internet could see immediately that the Old Rules really suited no-one except the tycoons. The only option open to the tycoons now was to try and make their Old Way look more enticing than all the New Things the Internet was offering. They did this mostly by telling everyone how TERRIBLE the New Way was and how much BETTER the Old Way was. They said this loudly and often.

‘If you continue to get your news for free,’ they cried ‘You’ll only get TERRIBLE quality news. WE are the keepers of GOOD quality news!’

Unfortunately, the people using the internet already knew that this was a stupid and desperate tactic. They knew that not only was the news from the New internet way just as good (and sometimes even better) than the Old newspaper way, but that the Old newspaper way gave them TERRIBLE quality news as often as not too!

In spite of this obvious failing, the tycoons quite idiotically convinced themselves their argument was good enough to charge money for their Old News, just like they used to do when the world was all nice and simple, before smoking tobacco caused cancer and when it was perfectly acceptable to feast on endangered species of quail and unsustainable caviar stocks. And so they said to the Internet people:

‘Now we want you to PAY for our Old Ideas, even though we have made exactly NO CONTRIBUTION to this new way of doing things…’

Well, we’ll have to leave our story there for the moment, because the last words have not quite been written. I suggest that ‘Happily ever after’ is not on the cards for those old newspaper tycoons, though. They are facing the end of their dynasty and they stand, as emperors have often done, bewildered in the empty halls of their palaces while the revolutionaries hammer at the gates.

Will Rupert get his 5% faithful? Will the champagne corks be popping in Wapping? Will the line on that graph level out before it hits sea level? Six months is about what I think it will take to give us the ending to this story.

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Footnotes:

  1. Quite interestingly, the curve visibly trends downwards well before the subscription requirement kicked in. I surmise that this indicates people started abandoning the Times pretty much as soon as they heard that it was going to start charging money. If I was head honcho, I would have taken this as an extremely worrying omen. []
  2. It also breaks one of the most important pieces of functionality of the web, and very few of the Old Guard understand this because it is such an alien concept to them: the ability to cross-link. Anyone who writes a blog (or anything written specifically for online diffusion) understands automatically how powerful a utility this is. The web is a ‘web’ because it builds itself on connectivity. If I want to write something on Tetherd Cow I can easily bolster my story with examples, references and asides that anyone can check instantly. But there’s NO WAY I can do that with the Times any longer. If I cross-linked to an article in the Times, my readers would simply behave as those in Cellan_Jones experiment, above. Murdoch’s idea is fundamentally destructive to the very foundations of the internet. Where we see the awesome power of the building up of information structures, he wants to create cloistered communities that he can control. This, in my opinion, is what will ruin him. He does not grok the net. []
  3. You can bet your humidified Havana cigar that there are those who, if they’d known how it was going to turn out, would have moved heaven and earth to have gained control of it… []

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