by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume V, No. L
For the Week of December 17, 2001

This Week's Clue: Avoid The Political Scam

This Week's Clue: Avoid The Political Scam

SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)

SP (Shameless Promotion)

Spam Works (for Crooks)

Good News In A Yahoo Surrender

The Secret Weapon of Diversity 

Clued-in, Clueless

An ISP Executive reader, Bruce Withycombe, chided me recently for alleged liberal politics. "I'm disturbed by what I perceive to be bias towards a 'government knows all and is our protector' attitude," he wrote.

In some ways I plead guilty to liberalism. I'm a card-carrying member of the ACLU. I support the Southern Poverty Law Center. I dislike prejudice based on race, religion, gender, or how God made your heart. 

Beyond that I'm fairly libertarian. I like balanced budgets, I adore creative destruction, and while I agree that societies should be measured on their balance sheets, not just their income statements, I want those in power to be as cheap with a dollar as I am.

So I'm a fairly poor fit on the ideological spectrum, a skeptical liberal-itarian. When someone tries to sell me ideology - any ideology - I always ask what's in it for them? Do they want my money? My soul? My liberty? These are not for sale. Ich bin ein Berliner

Recently Sports Illustrated had a fascinating feature (which they chose not to put online) about how Utah's Republican politicians stole billions of dollars for their friends, subsidizing the Salt Lake Olympics with taxpayers' money. Then, I thought, they were only one-upping Georgia Democrats, who got all they could for Atlanta six years ago. Ideology was a poor guide to action. 

All this comes back to the Internet when you realize that the industry's size has made it ripe for picking by political bag men, who claim to sell ideology but who in fact sell naked self-interest. Those who refuse to play, like Microsoft, are torn apart until they come across. Government is not for sale, but it can be rented. And government is powerful.

Who are these people, and how can you tell them when you see them? Start by looking for a suburban Washington address, and articles in ideological journals claiming that government should fix, or not fix, something or other. This is how Jonathan Zuck got his start, advocating first for Microsoft's self-interest , and now the Bells'

Note his language, unimpeachable and filled with ideological import. Antitrust law "should follow the ancient wisdom of the medical profession: 'first, do no harm.'" ISP efforts to use phone and cable lines (created through government monopolies for voice and TV service) for broadband are derided as "forced access."

If you turn ideology into a weapon for Bill Gates and the Bells you can be a success like Jonathan Zuck, too. But his is not the only "conservative" position. James Glassman uses the exact same ideology as Zuck to argue the precise opposite position regarding broadband . What's a poor conservative to do now? The answer: anything he (or she) wants. The way is clear to all sorts of mischief, like outright grants for rural broadband hidden in an agriculture appropriation

All political rhetoric masks naked self-interest. Don't be swayed by what they say - watch what they do. What they're doing now is making grabs for power (and your money) on the back of the broadband market pause. Here's a third example . Karen Kornbluh, a former FCC staffer, wants outright subsidies for broadband providers . After all, she writes, it will take billions of dollars to create broadband access, we need it, no one's offering it, so let's give someone the money to do it.

The problem with her argument, as with all political arguments, is that it's static. It ignores basic laws of technology and markets - things change. And while she's been playing reindeer games in Washington, out here in the real world a revolution is brewing called 802.11

802.11, a.k.a. "Wi-Fi," was originally a standard for creating wireless home networks. But hackers and entrepreneurs have discovered it can extend the reach of any network, and can be used to build brand new public and private networks, using unlicensed frequencies, free of government control. Michael Dell said in March this is "the next big thing" , and he may be right.

When security and authentication are dealt with (real products in this area are already emerging), Wi-Fi becomes the perfect way to move the Internet that last mile, from dark fiber to your home or office. There are tons of new niches here. You can write Wi-Fi software to secure the local networks that exist . You can combine those networks into a wider network and sell access. You can produce Wi-Fi hardware , you can create Wi-Fi servers or clients, or you can build Wi-Fi networks from scratch. This is going to be big, really big .

That is, Wi-Fi will be big so long as we keep people like Jonathan Zuck, James Glassman and Karen Kornbluh well away from it. Unfortunately, in the long run, we can't. As it was with the Internet, sabers are already rattling about the "dangers" of wireless networks . There are huge financial interests which could be crushed by Wi-Fi, starting with the Bells and the cable guys, but extending also to all those companies that bought "3G" wireless licenses

The only real solution is to remain skeptical. Don't listen to what they say, look who's behind them. Sometimes, this can be fairly obvious . Other times, journalists will be forced to dig for it . That's our job, and I pray we're up to it for your sake.

SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

It's here! Yes, the PDF version of "Living on the Internet" is finally available for purchase at eBooks.Com , hyperlinks and all. More outlets are being sought, and the November update is on its way to those who've requested it. You can get your own request in by dropping me a note, asking to be part of that list .

You can join the A-Clue.Com discussion at I-Strategy , our shared e-mail digest produced with Adventive.Com. You can also read me at ClickZ , BtoB, and Boardwatch. I'm also on the mast-head at Bottom Line Personal , a great print newsletter. Remember that it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...

Shameless Promotion

E-mail marketing works, but only if it's based on a relationship and a database.

Permission is just the first step. An audit of your database to eliminate extraneous names is the second step. Building interactive relationships with every name in that database should be your Job One, the main creator of value in your company.

You can take the first step on this journey with help from my friends at Whitehat Interactive - click here to begin.

Takes on the News

Spam Works (for Crooks)

ZDNet in the UK has verified something I have noticed by examining my own inbox folders. Spam is growing like mad .

A few months ago I was getting about 10 spams per day, including those sent twice. My current version of the folder has been open 30 days, and has about 800 messages. That's about 27 spams per day!

Now I admit to putting "semi-spam" in this folder. These are notes from otherwise-respected companies I bought from once, who then decided I was open to any pitch they wished to make because it costs them nothing to make it. This includes Amazon, Williams-Sonoma, Peeper-Sleepers, TravelSmith, eBay, and BestBuy.

But it also includes a lot of true spam - porn, stock scams, phony drugs, multi-level marketing, spam software spam, and the like. Increasingly it includes many real products. Plugs for legal insurance, cell phone service, Web hosting and domain name registration, even a Land Rover dealership, are all in my spam folder right now.

The sad fact is spam works. Even if only 1 in 1 million spams produce a sale, it's profitable for those unscrupulous enough to use it. Forrester Research insists that e-mail marketing is growing to plan , but that can't continue if spam growth outpaces the growth of permission-based e-mail, and the ability of servers to handle the load.

Given the dimensions of the problem, and the frightening math that accompanies it, one of two things will likely happen next year. Either ISPs will create a black list of customers they won't do business with, based on past spamming activities, or all customers will have their e-mailing further limited by ISP contract, and by technology that refuses to send more than a dozen outgoing messages at one time or (perhaps) 100 in a day, without incurring hefty additional charges.

Good News In A Yahoo Surrender

The news that Yahoo is releasing Webring to one of its founders warmed my heart, even while it gave many in the media something new to grouse about .

It was not inevitable that the idea of a Webring would survive the dot-boom and dot-bomb. Many good ideas that lacked a real business model disappeared in Chapter 11 filings, and they won't be coming back.

Tim Killeen, however, seems capable of re-building the system on a sound (low cost, little revenue) basis. Yahoo did everything possible to destroy Webring, both in acquiring it (through GeoCities) and in passing it back to Killeen. Mainly, it refused to pass Webrings' memberships and ring lists through its corporate fabric, either coming or going.

The result is that only the strongest rings, those with active, wide-awake management, are going to get through. These are the people, not just Tim Killeen, who should become the core of Webring, the people who come up with the principles and business models that will let it go forward. I think they're up to the challenge. To watch what happens, click here for the Ringmasters' discussion group and check out these free resources.

The Secret Weapon of Diversity

The process of government, like an old computer, is a Von Neumann architecture. There's one center, and decisions are made one at a time.

That's why it can sometimes appear that the Administration is doing everything it can to lose the war on terror. Fortunately, reality is not based solely on government. We have billions of people fighting, every day, in many ways, on behalf of freedom, liberty, and democracy, and against religious-based tyranny. That's another thing which makes this war different than any that has come before.

One way in which the battle is fought involves warning policy-makers away from bad ideas, like this one . Richard Clarke had the stupid idea that automatic updates could force patches onto systems which people were too lazy or unwilling to implement. Fortunately, it seems to have gotten through Clarke that there are millions of configurations out there, that patches don't always work, and that forcing patches might have the same impact as a virus attack.

The best evidence of this truth is the story of the "BadTrans" virus . It goes after new versions of Outlook Express and Internet Explorer. If everyone were automatically updated so everyone had this configuration, everyone would have this vulnerability. But millions (like me) don't, and so while I've gotten 100 copies of BadTrans I've had no infection. Diversity is a strength, not a weakness.

Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is the final result in the Ticketmaster vs. Tickets.Com "deep linking" case. Link all you want.

Clueless is KPMG  (and its idiotic splash screen front end). The accounting and "consulting" company is sending out lawyer letters claiming it must give permission even for outside links to its home page . Don't hire them, don't deal with them, they're idiots, and the letters are the proof.

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