Consumers Control Content

It’s about the consumer, stupid.

Andy Kessler’s article “A Future for Newspapers” talks about the meaning of The Pipe, the conduit between provider (publisher) and receiver (reader). Control the pipe, as the logic goes, control the consumer.

Today, writers and readers are at parity. This blog is a good example where I write and you write and both get published. Magazine’s Letters to the Editor represent a tiny fraction of reader input so the balance of power is skewed toward the publisher. Like the computing environment of yore, central control configurations eventually surrendered to peer-to-peer.

Which brings me to my early eighties stint at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) Distributed Systems Engineering that coincidentally saw my transition from driver of a tepid ’77 VW Rabbit to a ’66 Jaguar E-type. I was the lone non-engineer among engineers and I learned a lot. Way up the ladder was the DEC’s founder and CEO Ken Olsen who was fond of saying: “The Network IS the System.” This held true for eons, but unfortunately Ken forgot the power of the desktop and Microsoft eventually proved that “Whoever owns the desktop owns the consumer.” Ken Olsen is an engineer, Bill Gates a businessman, the rest is history.

DEC’s network pipe turned out to be a false promise as users took networks for granted and rarely interacted with the actual pipe. However, if one today considers this conduit, aka The Network, the short leash by which control may be exacted on the wary consumer, then cable companies, sat providers, Internet feeds will inherit the wind. Streaming video is just around the corner thanks to faster than anticipated use of broadband.So maybe Mr. Olsen’s philosophy is proven albeit 25 years later?

But the Pipe is vulnerable. As readers and writers become bed fellows, what’s to stop users from shuffling content among others…the ultimate Revenge of the P2Ps? I can use whatever commodity pipe is available to share info with anyone of my choosing. Publishers with limited websites want to charge for word counts and photos. I don’t think so. I can buy the cheapest Old Cars Weekly ad package and embed links to my Flickr photo gallery and Vimeo video streams, thank you very much.

Andy Kessler’s article is a must read, check it out.

By the way, I sold my E-type in ’93 to fund Mobilia Magazine’s first mail drop. Ouch.

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