by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume VI, No. XV
For the Week of April 15, 2002

This Week's Clue: Medievalism

"Against stupidity, the Gods themselves contend in vain."

Asimov's master work "The Gods Themselves"  was one of the first books I remember reading, back in the 1960s. On the Web links to the Asimov book seem more numerous than links to the Friedrich Schiller quote that inspired it.

The quote, however, is from a play about Joan of Arc, who used religious faith to restore the French monarchy and was martyred. It's a fitting image for our time.

Back in the 1980s, when I first began studying the Internet, we believed this technology could bring people together, helping us understand and tolerate our differences, making us one world. But it seems that, for most people, the Internet has become an echo chamber, in which we spend ever-more time in ever-narrowing circles of thought.

The result is the greatest threat imaginable to both the Web and civilization. I call it Medievalism. A Medievalist has absolute truth and will tolerate nothing, and no person, who contradicts it. This can spiral violently, out of control, driving civilization itself underground. The Internet can't survive the end of civilization.

September 11 was an attack by Medievalists, reminding us that on Islam's calendar this is the 14th century. But the attack has bred a medieval response in many people. By condemning all terrorists as "evil-doers," America's George III seeks a Medieval solution, stopping the clock on history, denying a response to an effective tyrant. Would fighting for liberty in Zimbabwe be "terrorist?" How about efforts against Castro in Cuba?

The Web has been unable to mitigate any of this. Absolutism goes unchallenged. Partly this is the fault of language - few in the West use Arabic regularly. Few major media outlets, in any country, speak far afield of political leaders. When a President, or Prime Minister, dehumanizes whole people, whole nations, and their leaders, the Web's response is muted at best. Go to a chat room at MSNBC or any other major media outlet discussing any aspect of the current crisis and all you'll hear is hate. It's their fault, their fault, their fault.

Thus a technology designed to build bridges is instead erecting walls, and behind those walls weapons are readied. This violence is the greatest threat the Web faces. War is unhealthy for economies and other living things.

The Internet is more than a network. It's a symbol of what we can do when we're connected. We use this technology to advance every branch of science, but Medievalism - in all its forms - now threatens that advance.

Those of us who use and love this medium don't like to consider its political dimension, or consider that the Internet might make political demands of us. But there is such a dimension, and there is (now) a demand. That demand is for the future, and against the past. It's for a world filled with all sorts of colors, and against one drawn only in black-and-white, without even shades of gray.

Since September 11 the past has been advancing relentlessly. We have let it advance, believing that civilization was threatened and must fight back. But we must also understand what it is we're fighting for, and what it is we're fighting against.

The solution to the present crisis is obvious. The President actually got it right. Both sides must compromise, ending up with real states and defensible borders that all their people can come home to. But look at, say, the Jerusalem Post, then at an equivalent medium from the other sideand you might think the reports were from two separate planets. No one is listening.

So both sides are equally wrong, simply because they're absolute. And this knowledge must guide us in the years of struggle ahead, because that struggle will also be against the Medievalists in our midst.

You can have sincere religious faith and move forward with this medium. But your absolutes must not be forced on others. The only absolute that makes sense in today's world is freedom. Thus, religious absolutists aren't just the enemies of their enemies, but the enemies of the Internet as well.

This knowledge places obligations on all of us. It's more than an obligation to keep our own minds open. It's also an obligation to speak out against Medievalism. Even if that seems dangerous. No great cause succeeds without cost, and this medium is our cause.

Science and the Internet can't survive in a Medieval world of violently contending absolutes. The Gods themselves can't beat stupidity. Only people can.

SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

Let's try some viral marketing. You can download the animated .gif file (from Thom Reece) now on the upper-left side of our home page, and copy it onto your own Web site to show that you're Clued-in and you want your business partners to get a Clue too. Clicking directly on the graphic leads to our subscription page. Next week I hope to offer the same graphic as part of the .HTM edition of a-clue.com, and its goal is very simple - 1,000 new subscriptions in the next month. I'm not paying for them because I'm not charging for them. Let's see if this Internet thing still works.

Meanwhile my own brand is changing. A-Clue.Com is still around, Have Modem, Will Travel is still around, but the brand to buy now is DanaBlankenhorn.Com. Here you will be able to buy my latest PDF book, "Boom, Bust & Beyond," order the print version, as well as purchase all my other fiction and non-fiction work. (It's a work in progress.)

I still write for Boardwatch and BtoB, but if you need some writing, editing, or consulting help don't hesitate to call on me

The Print on Demand version of "Living on the Internet" is also available for purchase at BookSurge.Com, for $29.99. And you can get the PDF version for just $7.99 (such a deal). The March update to the book is coming, and it's easy to get on the list via e-mail.

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

Shameless Promotion

A list is only worth the permission it's based upon. Auditing and aging your list are the only ways to know you really have permission to pitch - the first step on the road to getting them to sign on the line which is dotted. That signature is your bottom line. Everything else is just cost.

Take the first step toward making your lists truly valuable with help from my friends at Whitehat Interactive - click here to begin. They've got a Clue.

Takes on the News

In Search of Business Models

The Internet economy has always been about business models. In the 1990s it was about creating business models you could convince investors were viable. Today it's about creating business models that bring in more money than you're paying out.

The problem is acute in both software and services. In the 1990s both industries had a successful business model (as did I). It was called advertising. Free content rode next to ads in magazines, on Web sites, and in shareware programs. The ads paid the cost of the business.

That won't work today. Advertising has collapsed. Magazines are closing, newspapers are cutting major features, radio stations are firing DJs and pre-recording their "stars" to go 24-hours per day. TV stations are eliminating their news departments. Highway billboards are blank, bottom-feeding (in terms of the rates they pay) direct marketers are taking prime-time space on major cable nets, and Web advertising has practically disappeared (when it's not getting into your face and in front of the content). Fox lost millions on its football package, which is why John Madden will be on Monday Night Football next fall. The media (what's left of it) decries the "death of the free net," but there are fewer of us working all the time so the volume of the hue and cry is dimming.

This is also impacting the area of "free music," or as the publishers call it "pirated music." The enablers to all this, Kazaa and Morpheus, can't pay their bills. So we're finally getting some innovation. Kazaa is hiding a second peer-to-peer network called AltNet in its software from Brilliant Digital Entertainment, best known before this for producing ads and animations. Morpheus is, trying to use its software to re-direct users to sites of its choosing and going into the music publicity business (a version of the "Internet Time as Money" scheme we wrote about early this year, featuring new artists' music on its network for as little as $500.

David Coursey's take on this is Clueless. He compares AltNet to a computer virus, claims its introduction violates user agreements with ISPs, and warns of possible security problems. But Coursey's carping misses the point. The current business model on which all this rides is illegal - Brilliant's idea is to create a business model that not only works for Kazaa, but can create a pool of money that makes shared music legal.

Some success in this area is essential, because the music industry is self-destructing. The Celine Dion non-CD (copy-protected so it crashes computers) destroys fair use and is quickly becoming the most-pirated disk in history. The list of top artists rejecting the hype machine just keeps growing (Lauryn Hill is just the latest). The business is imploding.

Copyright is becoming a fault line like the Middle East. I'd compare BDE's Kevin Burmeister to Anthony Zinni, trying to bridge a gap that to many is unbridgeable. But Burmeister has more going for him. Intel is one of his investors and hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons is on his board. He's also a veteran of the Web animation wars.

But to read the headlines you'd think he was Saddam Hussein. "Stealth P2P Network Hides inside Kazaa." That's a bunch of loaded terminology for one sentence, especially for a headline that is supposed to be neutral. The fact is that if Burmeister can extract money from people for content, or from borrowing their PCs for distributing computing projects, or for anything else, he's creating the pile of money this industry needs to move forward.

Of course, his success would only be step one in a process. Step two would be to break the one-sided contracts music publishers have foisted on musicians for decades. The contracts lock-up copyrights, give artists pennies per CD, and provide no incentive for innovation. They also guarantee a few conglomerates nearly all the cash, and profits, that musicians produce. The Recording Artists Coalition is working that side of the problem.

Once you have a pile of money on the one hand and a pile of artists on the other the negotiations can begin, because the publishers have refused to get involved. If the music industry's problems can be solved, so can other industries' (including this one), so more voices can be heard (profitably) beyond David Coursey's.

Bernie Ebbers, Predator

Take a look at this chart. It shows the number of spam operators, or "spam gangs," hosted by Tier-1 Internet Service Providers worldwide.

See that top red line, the one that goes all the way to the right? That represents UU.Net, a unit of Worldcom. It's hosting 36 such gangs. (According to Spamhaus.org, which compiled the statistics, an ISP that hosts one or two might be a victim, but one that's hosting five or more must know what it's doing.) The most recent Probe Research figures I could find indicate Worldcom has 27.9% of that Tier One market, most of it UU.Net.

As a company Worldcom is in a world of hurt. It's laying off people because revenues aren't meeting the costs of debt incurred in rolling-up literally hundreds of smaller competitors in the 1990s. This is especially important in light of the huge growth in spamming over the last several months. An ISP that takes money from spammers is pushing costs on competitors that can't be recouped. Worldcom has declared war not just on users, but on other ISPs.

Drowning in Bandwidth

What's the central problem in the telecommunications space? It's that everyone is drowning in bandwidth that users can't reach.

Backbone providers are drowning in it, and the supply is only increasing. What isn't understood is that wireless providers are also drowning in it.

The problem isn't that bandwidth is useless, or there's no demand. The problem is there's too much supply right now to be used profitably. Fiber bandwidth has a "last mile" problem in terms of broadband, one that Wi-Fi will only partly solve.

The problem for wireless companies is more basic. It's price and an outdated government regulatory regime. These are related. Two Administrations now have seen wireless bandwidth rights as a cash cow to be milked as they see fit. There's no indication that's changing, despite a lot of happy talk.

The FCC should be a court, not an auction house. Its goal should be to educate the market and adjudicate disputes over interference, not to cash in and protect monopolies (or duopolies). This is a basic change of direction, one based on science, not politics. But until politicians are willing to listen to scientists - until the people demand they do so - don't expect things to change.

Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in would be a decision (recently predicted) striking down the CIPA as unconstitutional. Forcing anyone to use technology that doesn't work (even in the name of protecting children) is Clueless. The answer is to watch kids, not to deny them and expect technology to "protect" them.

Clueless is "Ooqa Ooqa", a new "ad technology" from United Virtualities designed to take over browsers and toolbars. (Their Web site, which forbids inside links, sucks as well.) Hosing newbies is always foolish, but some fools never learn.

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