Web dead? Some Reactions To Chris Anderson’s Wired Piece

A lot of folks have reacted to Chris Anderson’s deliberately provocative piece in Wired: “The Web Is Dead, Long Live the Internet.” I have two chief reactions. One is a methodological one — Anderson gives no justification for reliance on percentage of total Internet traffic as being a measure of anything in particular from which we might draw conclusions. I am hardly the first to note, for example, that according to Anderson’s chart, DNS traffic ceased to matter by the mid-1990s, a conclusion dramatically contradicted by actual reality.

But my chief criticism is substantive. Anderson — perhaps unintentionally — does an excellent job recapitulating Karl Marx’s original Socialist critique of capitalism, i.e., that it will invariably reduce to a monopoly or cartel structure exacting monopoly rents (although he leaves off the part about it eventually collapsing under its own inefficiency, the workers seizing the means of production, yadda yadda yadda). But his conclusion is that such is human nature and we ought to just suck it up as long as we keep getting cool stuff. (Aps are the opiates of the technorati masses, apparently).

But there is a reason I am not a socialist (despite claims of some critics to the contrary) and instead brand myself as a member of the Congregation of the Progressive Capitalists.  Anderson notes that “Monopolies are actually even more likely in highly networked markets like the online world. The dark side of network effects is that rich nodes get richer.” But he overlooks the ability of public policy to prevent that from happening. Anderson appears ignorant of the role of such things as the FCC’s Carterfone decision and subsequent rulemaking, or the role of the Computer Inquiries in creating the conditions for the growth and development of the Internet and the applications that ride on it, including the Web.

Accordingly, if we ignore the methodological problems and accept the underlying economic argument, the solution is not to develop ill-suited analogies based on the happenstance that we can somehow define “the Internet” as “post-adolescent” to somehow rationalize our loss of freedom. To the contrary, if we are really seeing the decline of the Web and the rise of the App, we have a policy choice to make. We can do nothing, and follow Anderson’s inevitable slide from the open world of the Web to the closed world of the Ap. Or we can do what we did to the wireline world 40 years ago in the FCC’s Carterfone and Computer proceedings and wedge the system open.

Put another way, we can still save the vibrant free market on the web through a little proactive regulation, rather than accept Anderson’s “inevitable” collapse.

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Jane Friedman, long-time publisher of Writer’s Digest, talks with Wetmachine

I first met Jane Friedman sometime around June, 2001, when she called to tell me that my novel Acts of the Apostles had won the Writer’s Digest National Self-Published Book Award for that year (in the “genre” category:  a juried competition with 324 entrants, ahem; I digress).

That call took place pretty early in Jane’s 12 year career at F+W Media (and pretty early in my self-publishing career, now that you mention it.) Her talent was obvious and she rose quickly. In 2008 she was named the publisher of Writer’s Digest, the No. 1 resource for working writers. In her varied roles at F+W, she was responsible for the management and growth of multiple book lines, annual directories, newsstand and subscriber-driven magazines, online education and services, e-commerce, print and online advertising, as well as national writing events and competitions.

Jane recently left WD to take a position as assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati, and she now teaches full-time in the e-media department of CCM. She’s a frequent speaker at writing and publishing events; her focus is on helping writers understand the transformation underway in the media and publishing industries, and how they can be successful and in control of their careers.

I recently asked Jane if she would like to be interviewed for Wetmachine and SelfPublishing Review. She said yes, and I sent her some questions; her answers appear below the fold (and will appear in SPR tomorrow). If you read my recent interview with Mark Coker of Smashwords, you’ll notice some overlap in my questions. I think it’s interesting to see where Jane agrees with Mark and where she differs. But all of her answers are thoughtful and some of them are quite intriguing.
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Self-aware programs? Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread.

According to a status update on the facebook page of a friend of mine (which means it must be true), this quote:

‎”At this point we get into such difficult questions as whether a computer program can have purpose, or consciousness, or free will, or even a soul. I do not propose to address those issues now, because I am still chewing on the same questions concerning myself.”

is attributed to Guy Steele (whom fellow Wetmachanic Howard Stearns once told me he wanted to be when he grew up) in the book Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About by (“The Legend”) Donald Knuth, whose fondness for ligatures in TeX among other things, were oh-so-gently lampooned in the book to be mentioned in the next paragraph.

Of course such “difficult” questions are precisely the (ostensible) subject of the famous & brilliant novella Cheap Complex Devices, which you can read portions of right here on this very website, or better still, buy a copy!  Any of y’all needing a nudge can start with this review, which gets to the heart of the matter quite nicely.

What Dems Have To Lose If Genachowski Embraces The Latest “Net Neutrality Consensus.”

I occasionally suspect my colleagues in the Public Interest community lack a sense of humor — although perhaps it is simply that I am in a more relaxed frame of mind after my annual vacation from the 21st Century. I am neither surprised nor outraged at the recent news that members of the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC) are picking up where the FCC “secret meetings” left off and trying to come up with a net neutrality consensus framework. To me, it seems rather sad and funny. My only surprise is that even in Washington, the notion of an industry trade association working with its members is anything unusual or significant. I mean, that’s what industry trade associations do after all.

The sad thing is that, given the utter genius the Obama Administration has shown for pissing off the Democratic base through constant waivering, there is every reason to believe that the FCC might be tempted to view what comes out of this “industry consensus process” as something it can embrace to its bosom. This would be a disaster not merely for Genachowski and what remains of his reputation, but for Congressional Democrats as well. If there is one unequivocal lesson that came out of the Goog-VZ debacle last week, it is that the Netroots care deeply about this issue. While I get that the DC establishment considers the Netroots something of an embarrassment (or, as Rahm Emmanuel famously opined, “bleeping retarded”), Congressional Democrats understand that unless the Netroots (a) keep giving money, and (b) turn out and vote, they are toast — as evidenced by Alan Grayson’s abrupt about face from his previous “let Congress handle it in our own sweet time” to “Congress and the FCC must step up now.

More below . . . .
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Some Quick Updates Goog-VZ Reaction Craters Industry Talks, BTOP Recision of $300 Million Back Again.

Well this was a fun week.

First, it turns out that the public — when actually confronted with the prospect of two giant companies dividing the internet between them — is less than thrilled with the prospect of watching the market work its magic. Bet Alan Grayson is sorry he sold out now.

If Mr. Grayson would like to show his support for real Net Neutrality, how about his co-sponsoring the Markey-Eshoo Bill? He (and all the other Dems who profess their undying love of Net Neutrality) could show they really mean it by actually co-sponsoring a bill with strong, enforceable, net neutrality conditions.

On the downside, the Senate stripped out $300 million from BTOP again. This time, it does not look like there can be an over-ride. Because when you are Democrats, if you have a stimulus program that’s actually working to create jobs and infrastructure for the future, the thing to do is gradually dismantle it to appease Republicans. _sigh_

Stay tuned . . .

Smashwords founder Mark Coker talks to Wetmachine about the future of publishing

Smashwords is a service for helping small and self-publishers format ebooks in diverse formats (for example: kindle, epub, PDF, Palm) and distribute them through diverse retail channels (for example Amazon, Apple, BN, Kobo, and Smashwords itself). A few weeks ago I sent Smashwords founder Mark Coker a note asking if I could interview him for Wetmachine & SelfPublishing Review. He said yes; I sent him some questions about the current & future state of book publishing, and he answered. His replies appear below the fold.

I found his answers interesting and direct, and I think you’ll enjoy reading what he had to say.
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Genachowski’s Fast Fading Star — And How He Can Still Salvage His Term As Chairman.

There’s a phrase I hear a lot these days. Sometimes I hear it from angry folks, muttering under their breath. Some say it sheepishly, with a trace of embarrassment to find themselves saying it. Some pass it off as a joke. The phrase?

I never thought I’d miss Kevin Martin, but . . . .

No one can doubt that Julius Genachowski has emerged as the absolute opposite of Kevin Martin. Unfortunately, this includes a stunning inability to make decisions, combined with an ability to generate his own political opposition by dithering. This does not simply apply to the current fight over FCC broadband authority. It applies to everything, including what was supposed to be his big signature issue from the National Broadband Plan — getting 500 MHz of spectrum available for broadband.  A perusal of the last year of FCC orders and Commission meetings shows a non-stop stream of reports, studies, and proposed rulemakings. The only actual orders involve things so non-controversial and trivial that they hardly constitute tweaks. It does not help that Genachowski manages to give every impression that while he enjoys jetting about to industry conferences and rubbing elbows with the media elite, he does not appear very interested in actually doing the work of Chairman.

As if to underscore this point, the Agenda for the FCC’s August 5 meeting has only two items: Amendments to the FCC’s hearing aid rules and a proposed rulemaking and NOI on wireless backhaul. While certainly useful items, the FCC could easily have handled these on circulation. Meanwhile, critical elements of the Chairman’s agenda, such as auction of the D Block, final rules for the broadcast white spaces, incentive auctions for broadcast television licenses, special access reform — in short, anything that matters enough to get anyone mad if they lose — languishes. David Hatch portrayed this in a recent National Journal article (sorry, sub required), David Hatch described Genachowski as under attack from Congress. But the sad truth is that Genachowski creates his own opposition by his stunning refusal to actually make decisions and lead. This gives opponents time to organize, frustrates and exhausts supporters, and undermines support for Genachowski’s initiatives. (Why put yourself out for someone who isn’t ever going to actually take action?)

As I said at SuperNova 10, I don’t say this to be mean or simply to vent. To the contrary, I believe Genachowski can still act quickly and decisively to achieve important things and rescue his reputation and legacy.  Below, I outline three recent examples — broadcast white spaces, D Block, and general broadband authority — where Genachowsi’s failure to seize initiative and show leadership has resulted in generating his own opposition and diluting his support. I then recommend some general steps Genachowski can take to restore his fading star and rescue his agenda. In the end, however, it is up to Genachowski.  He can keep trying to be liked, avoiding anything that might piss someone off, and live the rest of his term in a Chairman-bubble carefully insulated from criticism. Or he can grit his teeth, decide on what fights — win or lose — are worth doing, and start doing the hard work of making real decisions.

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