by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume V, No. VII
For the Week of March 5, 2001

This Week's Clue: Jocks vs. Geeks

This Week's Clue: Jocks vs. Geeks

SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)

Does Jeff Arnold Have a Clue?

Google's Clue

Be Like Andy

Clued-in, Clueless

Most of the divisions plaguing the Internet may be explained as an extension of the high school war between jocks and geeks.

The new President was a cheerleader. That's the worst kind of jock because cheerleaders don't participate (thus don't have the discipline) but they gain all the accoutrements of jock-dom. Jocks don't just dominate high school anymore. They dominate our legislatures and law courts, not to mention your marketing department, and their terminology filters into our boardrooms. 

Geeks, as Jon Katz pointed out , run the Internet. I believe there are all kinds of geeks. (I'm a writing geek.) The kind of self-absorption and one-dimensional commitment that makes a geek is generally out of place in a high school setting where the jocks (and cheerleaders) bring the glory and therefore get the run of the place. 

There are very few places where geeks are privileged (MIT, CalTech, and my alma mater being three), but many elite colleges today reserve up to one-third of their places for jocks. (This helps them win tennis matches against the elite colleges around them.) One study showed last year a girl has a 50% better chance of getting into an elite college if she's an elite athlete than merely an elite student, which shows how deep the jockocracy is. We are denying the best education to those who can do the most with it, in favor of people who use the names merely to get ahead in business. 

The major jock-geek issues of the 1990s were encryption and privacy (which depends on encryption). The geeks seemed to win (although the fact that Phil Zimmerman, creator of PGP, has moved to a company based in Ireland indicates that victory may be short-lived). 

The newest issue dividing jocks from geeks is that of copyright. Geeks resent copyright (even when they benefit from it). The geek view of copyright is contained in the shareware ethic, where software is distributed free but you pay for it if it's of value. Geeks don't like paying for things that have not yet proven their value to them. Even then they prefer a sliding scale to a fixed price - why should poor geeks go without, right? 

Jocks won't have this. The music that sells best today - Brittany Spears, N'Sync, Backstreet Boys - is basically jock rock. Pretty people doing pretty dances making pretty good money. This market remains pretty firmly in the control of jock marketers - most geeks don't care for jock rock. 

Software is written by geeks but sold by jocks. Jocks may claim that "40% of software is pirated" but geeks doubt that much of that is real money. If forced to pay, most of the 40% will do without. 

The Internet today has begun a crackdown on geeks by jocks. Larry Lessig, who supports the geek political cause, warns that jocks will win. John Perry Barlow, a music geek (and former Grateful Dead lyricist) insists geeks can win by simply ignoring the law

The result will be casualties. Geeks, the people we need most to run the 21st century, will be going to jail for being geeks. (Laws were changed in 1998 to guarantee this.) High schools will increasingly police their Internets the way they police hallways and further alienate geeks. Geekhood is naturally a form of alienation, and alienating the alienated will result in more violence. 

Geeks have always assumed the Internet (their creation) would take their side but that is not certain. In fact it's unlikely. The ultimate protection for geeks is their dominance of the necessary software, but creating (or even linking to) such software has now been declared illegal. 

What this means is that the true Internet War has been joined. On the one side, lawyers and marketing staffs. On the other side, geeks and engineering staffs. Will the pointy-headed bosses of the world wind up putting Dilbert and Wally behind bars? Or will some political Dogbert help us find a way out of this mess? 

Stay tuned. 

SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

After some flames, some unsubscribes, and a bit of soul-searching I've decided to take a-clue.com back to weekly publication. It took me much longer than expected to load five dailies (even with the content in hand) and I need to make a living (this is my marketing, not my work). If you really liked the daily delivery, let me know and we'll see what we can do for you, but you might want to just read one item each day off this issue. (I know, betcha can't read just one.)

Join the A-Clue.Com discussion at I-Strategy , our shared e-mail digest produced with Audettemedia. You can also read me daily at ClickZ , monthly at B2B, and Boardwatch, weekly at WorkZ  and once every two weeks at Internet Content. Remember that it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...

Shameless Promotion

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Takes on the News

Does Jeff Arnold Have a Clue?

WebMd founder Jeff Arnold is the kind of fast-talking charlatan every decade produces in abundance. In the 1980s he did leveraged buy-outs and in the 1960s he built conglomerates.

Arnold's strategy is the "roll-up," based on the (faulty) assumption that when all major players in an industry are tied together success is virtually assured. In this he hearkens back a century, to the days of Morgan and Rockefeller.

Many financiers agree with Arnold's assumption but, since Arnold is the faster talker and has the bigger bankroll, he might seem like a good horse to bet on. If, that is, the assumption is correct.

It's true there are barriers to entry in the e-tailing space. Scaled fulfillment is one such barrier. Brand can become one, if the brand has credibility. Unfortunately none of the brands Arnold and his ilk are looking at have credibility.

Beyond the cost of the physical assets, today's dot bombs have no value whatsoever - there's nothing worth rolling-up. Anyone can still enter the market quickly and deliver quality that creates brand loyalty  The key Clue to today's market is simple - bet on the jockey, not on the horse. Jeff Arnold hasn't proven he can ride an ass.

Google's Clue

In the movie "City Slickers" Jack Palance offers a Clue that Google (http://www.google.com) has used with great success. "Just one thing," he tells an incredulous Billy Crystal. "Figure that out and everything else becomes easy."

Google figured out its one thing was search. This has fueled their expansion strategy. The purchase of Deja was followed by a big investment in making PDF files searchable .

Critics of the Deja purchase need to remember that Deja itself was doing worse than Google even contemplates, putting ads inside Usenet posts . The move by Sourceforge  to create an open source, non-commercial Usenet directory should not distract the commercial service.

Perhaps the smartest thing Google has done, however, is stay private. It had an opportunity last year to cash-out in the public market and stayed away. Had that happened the company today would be dot-dead.

Be Like Andy

ClickZ, which runs my daily column, has always been a trendsetter in terms of extracting money from advertising. They had small buttons, e-mail ads and sponsorships long before anyone else. The content took the industry to school, but so did the advertising.

Booz Allen is now telling Yahoo, Excite, and the other "portals" that if they want to survive the Dot Calm they need to be more like Andy . Sponsorships, new service offerings and co-branded ventures are the keys to success, according to Vice President Horacio Rozanski. Savvy ClickZ readers knew this two years ago.

Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is Phil Zimmerman , who left Network Associates for a truly open, Irish-based privacy outfit called Hush Communications. Since the company is Irish its use of algorithms is beyond the reach of U.S. politicians who tried to throw Zimmerman in jail a decade ago.

Clueless is Steve Friedman of the New York Post, along with anyone else who thinks that a single court case ends the question of file sharing online. Laws that are unenforceable reduce respect for all law. Compare Friedman's idiotic ramblings to Scott Rosenberg's more thoughtful commentary , which says the music industry must give as well as take if it's to win over Napster's consumer base from the peer-to-peer clones.

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