by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume IV, No. XX
For the Week of May 15, 2000

This Week's Clue: Philosophy of the Web

This Week's Clue: Philosophy of the Web

SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)

Straight Talk at @d:tech

Banners Are Not State of the Art

FUD Lives!

Clued-in, Clueless

Many people assume that Web-head philosophy has something to do with the 1960s, and it does. But it's not the 60s of peace, love, and dope. It's the 60s of the Apollo program.

Apollo attitudes - get it done, ignore the money - gave birth to the Internet. Without that attitude the Web would have been impossible - corporate greed (who would pay whom) did in schemes like X.400, EDI and the 7 layers of OSI. The Internet's architecture is simple, open, no-nonsense. It was designed by engineers for other engineers. 

Apollo engineers assumed everyone was working in a common cause (and they were). Questions of greed or evil were simply foreign. After the Eagle landed their successors did wear long hair and listen to rock music, but their attitudes were Apollo. Their supporters in Congress (and Al Gore Jr. was one of them) shared this philosophy, but it was a philosophy that put other philosophies aside. It was neither Republican nor Democrat, liberal nor conservative. It was utilitarian.

So if there is a First Amendment of the Internet, it's the scientific method. Criticism and argument are necessary, they are part of the process. Inquiry must be open - you only learn when you change your mind. The idea of closing off inquiry, the whole idea of "no" - that's something to route around. This makes the Web the great enemy of all closed minds, and most of us (unfortunately) are closed around something. It could be God, country, greed, order, even freedom itself - the impulse to close-off someone is nearly universal. 

The Business Web has introduced a new philosophy at the top of the stack. It's Ayn Rand, "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead." Scratch beneath the surface of a Kevin O'Connor, a Scott MacNealy, a Larry Ellison, even a Steve Ballmer, and that's what you find. The individual is a law unto him (or her) self. Only the creator has the power to control the creation. Egos that define new worlds require enormous self-confidence (or self-absorption) - Rand is the perfect antidote to the guilt of being (without apology) yourself.

Scientific liberty and individualism - if you're not a scientist, engineer or entrepreneur they can easily threaten tyranny. That's what the new Populists, the anti-WTO demonstrators from the left and right, really fear. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss, and the levers for changing bosses may become permanently out of reach. At least democracy holds out the hope of change - is there any truly democratic system covering the world? What would it be like? Wouldn't its decisions threaten our local, religious, national, business, individual or scientific "rights"?

These are the unanswered questions. Answering them are the chief philosophical tasks for our time. Esther Dyson, to her discredit (I think) declined to address them as chair of ICANN. But someone must. We need philosophies, and we need leaders, who can take our inclinations and make them into something solid, something we're willing to fight for and (if need be) die for. It's an -ism with no name, an order based on disorder. 

Right now our futures are being defined negatively, by what we're against. We're against the RIAA and the author of "The Love Bug." We route around the first and applaud the cops chasing the second. The question is, how do we rationalize that and create order out of contradictory impulses? We route around tyrants, corporations, and authorities of all sorts, based on the great "I" whose impulses are law. But some instincts are truly evil - there may be an "I" out there who is out to get you. 

Somewhere there are philosophies, systems, bodies of law and authority, that will speak to what we've created. (Personally, I enjoy those of the late Isaiah Berlin.) Your Clue is to find these philosophies, to embrace them, and to fight for them. Until we define what we're for, our enemies retain the ability to define (and destroy) us. 

SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

Next week I'll be covering the ISPCon show in Orlando for the folks at Boardwatch. The next Web is still being defined, and hopefully I'll bring you back some of the definitions.

I'm still making myself available for consulting to a limited number of clients, with an eye toward assuring their long-term success. If you're interested give me a shout at 404-373-7634.

Also, please pass this along to friends and urge them to join our list. And don't forget our new e-mail address .

I write daily for ClickZ, and weekly at Andover.News. I write monthly for  NetMarketing, Boardwatch, and  Intellectual Capital. I've been in Advertising Age and the Chicago Tribune .Once every other month I'm in CLEC Magazine. You can always buy my book . Subscription instructions are at the bottom of each issue.

Remember that it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...

Takes on the News

Straight Talk at @d:tech

The @d:tech show in San Francisco found an unexpected (welcome) dose of honesty from a Sunday New York Times story indicating marketers don't know what to do (and aren't doing much of anything) with all the consumer data that's causing them such trouble from privacy advocates.

As one lobbyist pleaded, I'm covering your back on this, and if you don't need it why bother? The answer he was given was there are tools coming available to use this data, so marketers (and leading edge tool makers) don't want their futures foreclosed by legislation. (Whether the tools will work, or whether they will be worth the price, is another question. Chances are that for "low involvement" products (such as those made by Proctor & Gamble, the biggest corporate advocate of new thinking, the answer will be they're not worthwhile.)

The themes of the show were integration and taking the "e" out of e-marketing, but when marketers talked honestly among themselves, they admitted this too may be a chimera. Fiefdoms are ruled by money, and money is parceled out to departments. No one wants their pay cut when their client's performance dips. Clients who try to enforce this discipline find themselves with another problem - their point man (or woman) keeps changing, being recruited by agencies or start-ups to take off their corporate straightjackets. The result is if you try to build a personal relationship in a company to make a deal (like pay for performance) that person may leave before you get any benefit from it.

The solutions are to make multiple contacts within corporations (so you've always got someone to call) and maintain contact with those old contacts when they leave. It's the personal network that abides, if you make the effort to keep it active. If you won't make that effort, why should we think you need such relationships with consumers?

Banners Are Not State of the Art

While at @d:tech I took in the show's awards dinner, honoring the best banner ads of 1999.

How can I say this gently? They sucked. CNN won two awards for a banner reading CNN.Com in block letters! I have no doubt the judges did their best and, if the winners were U.S.-centric, this was an American show and an American group. But if these were the winners can you imagine what the losers looked like? And if this was the best you can do with the form, maybe it is time for that form to be retired.

The banner format itself has always been a tease, a gateway into a larger branding and marketing experience which was made through a hot-link. Perhaps it is time we made them just that. Give the brand bar a taste of the work being done on TV then, when it's clicked, give that work a little twist. (The banners that did this best were New Line's for its teen scream movie "Final Destination.")

Instead of landing on a sales page or a Web form the clicker will go inside the commercial, experiencing the same creative world seen previously on TV. You didn't make a TV commercial (even cable) - radio. (And why isn't there more post-click sound - I never understood that one.) No radio ad, your print or billboard creative. If it's an Internet-only campaign, then you go straight to e-mail invitations and collecting information - maybe do a quick calculation. But a banner itself is too short, too small, and too limited to (by itself) take anyone through an entire sales funnel.

FUD Lives!

On the heels of the launch of Webvan in Atlanta Publix  said it will launch an online grocery store too.

I'll believe it when I see it. Running a store is different from running a warehouse and delivery fleet. It takes money and commitment most brick-and-mortar merchants lack. The Publix story is a great example of what the high-tech industry calls "Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt" or FUD. Don't believe such nonsense until you see a serious commitment of money.

Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is Howard Cohen of c3f.com, the best satirist on the Web today. Check out his take on the Microsoft break-up - it's head-splitting funny.

Clueless is not Patti Hartigan, but her bosses at the Boston Globe . Her story on Cohen has no links (although she was clever and quoted full addresses for Web sites so you could cut-and-paste them in a browser).

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