1995-09-29 - Web “places” and the media monsters

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From: “Vladimir Z. Nuri” <vznuri@netcom.com>
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Message Hash: 272123801bbcf419d229b20d849f90082a9f81434063613960a4cf8965ab1292
Message ID: <199509292319.QAA21372@netcom10.netcom.com>
Reply To: N/A
UTC Datetime: 1995-09-29 23:27:27 UTC
Raw Date: Fri, 29 Sep 95 16:27:27 PDT

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From: "Vladimir Z. Nuri" <vznuri@netcom.com>
Date: Fri, 29 Sep 95 16:27:27 PDT
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Subject: Web "places" and the media monsters
Message-ID: <199509292319.QAA21372@netcom10.netcom.com>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

below is an interesting excerpt from Boardwatch magazine, which I find
to be a good source for internet/web/BBS coverage. it talks about how
the Web, to continue its momentum, may evolve into something like
BBSes that give the sense of an online community..

also, I recently read a chapter from an upcoming book, I think it was
by Negroponte, and he pointed out how the web/gopher servers did not
really explode until the introduction of Mosaic and an *image* standard
was put into HTML. (to this I would add forms capability-- buttons, etc.)
This suggests that the success of the Web is really highly predicated
on the easy-to-use interface of Web browsers, and the nice visual presentation
given by images etc.  in other words, the "hypertext" capabilities, while
tremendous, were not necessarily the *key* factors in driving its use, but
when coupled with these other ingredients, really pushed it all "over the

this makes a lot of sense to me. the human being is very visually oriented
(large amounts of brain capacity are dedicated to processing images). I think
the days of computer programs as "lines of text scrolling up the screen" are
increasingly numbered because of this. the easy-to-use GUI will be the model
of most future software for a long time.

in addition to this, I would add that I suspect that as soon as web pages 
begin to convey a sense of community (as
mentioned in this column), through conferences etc., the growth of the 
web will increase even more dramatically.. I also continue to believe
that "groupware" will prove to be a very important aspect of future web
development.. (so I agree with TCM that isolated software packages that
do not really integrate with the web to do groupware are going to eventually
go extinct).

the thoughts in this column also tie in with the recent NYT Levy column
in which Levy pointed out how the internet is an entirely new medium
for broadcasting in which the individual has total freedom and egalitarianism 
that cannot be found in any other medium of the past, and that for this reason 
all the recent frenzied, slobbering  media mergers are actually "rearranging
the deck chairs on the titanic" (he credits J.Gilmore for this quote, who 
seems to have an amazing propensity for great soundbites). 

I agree with this wholeheartedly. the big media conglomerates are going to
be quite terrified when they eventually realize that the main thing they
are providing is a *distribution channel*, and that these very costly 
distribution channels are all obsoleted (sorry to verb that word <g>) by
the introduction of cyberspace for the masses. artists are free to try
to reach the audience in whatever means they see fit; they are no longer
dependent on the media machines to make a living. I have talked to various
musicians for example who find that they can create their own CDs through
individually contracting with various companies and make far more in profit 
than they can from going with record companies (who shave off enormous amounts 
of artist profit to feed the machine).

an amusing pink floyd song that has a biting satire of a 
record company executive. "the band is just fantastic!! that's really
what I think!! oh by the way, which one's pink?? oh, have you seen 
the charts?? everyone else is just green!! this could be made into a 
monster if we all pull together as a TEAM!!"

now, I don't believe this means the end of various artistic people
and occupations such as producers, directors, etc.  however the artist/writer/
whatever suddenly becomes the driving component, the centerpiece,
of the entire process. he has the ability to very discriminately decide
who he wishes to work "with" (not for!) and who will benefit from his 
own work and in what way. he is no longer a cog in the machine but in
fact the director and driving force of it all. he has the ability to
cut out the parasitical middleman like never before (I do think there
are many truly *beneficial* middlemen out there to help the artist flourish,
and the future will help separate the wheat from the chaff).

there are some things that very big companies give you, and one
of them is a very big budget. but if this is the only purpose of a big
company, than it can almost be seen just as a big investment firm or
capital generating machine. this machine will probably continue to 
exist but will be in an increasingly subservient role to how artists
wish to interact with it, IMHO. this can already be seen in how top
actors and directors are now setting their own terms like never before.

amazingly, as TCM noted in a recent post, industry pundits at one
point were actually saying that "hypertext is dead" a few years ago,
because no new developments had been made in it and the Ted Nelson
Xanadoodoo silliness had never gotten anywhere (despite major bucks
thrown at him-- one almost wonders if he set back hypertext, rather
than advanced it, but that's another story). this is the amazing
lack of vision that most people have about the future, about what 
consumers are really interested in, and you can see it again noted by 
Rickard below. 

at one point huge bucks were being thrown down prototype
projects to deliver news through the vertical-blank interval of the television
screen, and newspapers thought this would be the "information delivery
vehicle of the future". the service flopped. the lesson was not that
"hypertext is dead" or "online services are not profitable" (some of the
actual conclusions of industry analysts) but that this was not the exact
form that the public was interested in.

there is a difference that I have emphasized elsewhere about "interactive"
vs. "interconnective". the former would refer to a human interacting with
computer, like a CD rom game, or hypertext, or whatever. the latter refers
to humans interacting with other humans through cyberspace, more directly,
more viscerally: email, chat forums, communities, multiplayer games, etc.  
the latter is the ingredient that is really driving the hyper cyberspatial 
renaissance, IMHO, and Rickard brings out this point below.  (the neat
thing about home pages is not so much that they are pretty and visually 
appealing, but that they are written by your friend Joe Schmoe next door,
and highly personalized, quirky and eccentric.)

for some of my own investment tips <g>, if you want to 
invest in companies that understand where the future is going, invest in the 
ones that understand: 

1. anyone should be able to publish on the network. no one (not government,
not media company, not internet provider, etc.) is authorized to
control others through allowing or denying access, charging exhorbitant
taxes, charging exhorbitant overhead, etc.  this is not merely a statement
of what is desirable, or my own wishful thinking, it's a basic future reality 
that is already largely formed at this moment. those who don't like it and
fight it will simple fail to be competitive and survive over the long run.

2. the content-providers will not have to pay much for the infrastructure
to provide their wares. in the past distribution and content could not
be separated, and those in control of the former could control the latter.
the two have been *cleaved* in the present and the future. the distribution
costs for "media" are going to become almost completely negligible in
the future. the distribution channels will involve cutthroat competition,
and enormous bandwidth for virtually free. 

2.5 companies that understand this "cleaving" will prosper. companies
that are trying to combine content and delivery don't "get it" and will
probably split or die.

3. humans want to "interconnect" with other humans. pretty pages and
all that other stuff is great, but it doesn't create the insatiable enthusiasm
for being online that "interconnection" does. the future "killer apps"
will be increasingly "interconnective, not interactive".

4. increasingly, quality and true artistry will flourish. you will not be 
able to make a quick buck from crappy material. the public will be able 
to be very selective.  they might be able to buy individual songs from 
songwriters, individual essays from writers, etc. (through clicking on 
various web pages).

5. middlemen will become increasingly accountable for what kind of
value they are adding to the final product. they will not become obsolete,
but will have to justify their cut.  the artist will no longer have to
sell their soul just to get a record or writing in front of the public.
the artist will write their own ticket and set their own standards.
the exploitative aspects of the current media machine (which are quite
reprehensible and widespread, from what I can tell) are going to
be replaced with a "kinder, gentler" approach..

6. the days of a zillion people watching the same program or listening
to the same music are dead.  this is much lamented by the media monsters, 
because this was a big aspect driving their existence. this is not 
so much a "fragmentation of markets" but actually a "blossoming of
individuality". the net will continue to fragment artistic tastes. but
individuals will have little problem fulfilling their own tastes.

7. the paradox of all this is that when people are more free to pursue
that which interests them in particular, and they are not "homogenized
out of existence", the overall organism flourishes. there is nothing
to be lamenting in that a thousand people now do not listen to the same
music or read the same newspaper or whatever-- this is something to 
celebrate. it scares people like politicians, who derive much of their
power from "homogenization".. but thankfully this is another case where I 
think the future will separate the healthy from the lame, presuming
their is indeed a distinction in this case <g>

as you can see, a lot of these points, which may seem pretty obvious to 
a lot of people here, are fundamentally not understood by today's preening
media magnates (which, perhaps, are the entities that *will* become extinct). 
but it's just fine to let them go on their merry way, you know what they say 
about fools and money.

I don't really have any idea, really, where the massive media mergers are
going to go. I certainly am not saying they are going to disappear overnight.
one possibility, as I mentioned, is that they would tend to
become just huge, competing capital providers. they might turn into sort
of "artistic communities", each with a different flavor. if they are going
to die, though, the eclipse will certainly be messy as these big monsters
go down kicking and screaming, realizing that the delicious lunch they
were salivating after was actually sinking in a tar pit.

Webwatch column
by editor Jack Rickard

The World Wide Web has deservedly captured the imagination of the online
world. It displays both extraordinary connectivity, in that you can
literally hop across continents by clicking the mouse, and a very
visually appealing  graphical interface. And it probably goes
beyond that with the use of audio, videoclips, and more. But it is
destined to die in its current form.

Through the entire history of the online community, there has
been an urge to create pretty screens, have them blessed by lawyers,
and presented online for the consumption of the masses, who in theory
will each pay a little bit of coin of the realm for the privilege.
Literally hundreds of millions of dollars drained into
this rathole fantasy before those who created online
services began observing what people *wanted* to do online. Visually 
appealing screens are alway a novelty. But after the novelty wears
off, the callers move on. Knight-Ridder provided the most grisly 
example of this with their failed VIEWTRON service. But they
weren't alone.

Currently the World Wide Web is in a nearly pure fad phase entirely 
based on novelty. Amost every site you visit has something new and
stunning to offer by way of screen design tricks. But after clicking
through the thousands of sites available for a few weeks, almost
everyone tires of the game and starts looking for a home. Since most
of what the web can do is present information via eye-candy screens, they 
rarely find one. So they are back to newsgroups and e-mail to keep them

This is not entirely apparent today. The flood of new callers just gaining 
access is  immense. And according to an NTIA study just released, by the
end of 1995, nearly half of the population online will have just
arrived in 1995. But at some point, webulosis, a hardening of the
web, could set in.

We don't actually think it will happen. There is enough in the combination
of novelty and new blood to keep this in the air for some months.
And that may be all that is needed. But for the web to grow beyond
pretty screens, bulletin boards or something very like bulletin boards 
must migrate to the Web and make it truly useful. In other words, web
sites must evolve into "places" where there are "people" if they
are to continue to be relevent beyond specialty publishing. 

So our theory is that the Web is going to change into a series of bulletin
boards. And bulletin boards, conversely, are going to migrate to the
web with all the caller management, local message conferences, and sense of
"place" that entails.


[the article goes on to mention the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link as a
living embodiment of this trend, see http://www.well.com]

--Vlad Nuri