For the Week of August 5, 2002
The New York Times recently published a (surprisingly) thoughtful piece on how Google is making us all familiar to one another.
There are side-effects from all this information, and our growing ability to access it. Increasingly we can no longer be strangers to one another.
I gave someone a taste of this recently when I got a cold call from "theoptingroup" of Florida. A fast-talking salesman identifying himself as Tony wanted to talk me into something (I wasn't sure what) and I finally told him to just send me an e-mail. The e-mail showed me what he was selling - e-mail marketing services. So I did a quick Google Groups search on Tony's operation. I then sent a response noting that I don't do business with spammers, and added his URLs to my "spam" filters. I haven't heard back.
E-mail marketing is a tough business, but it needs to get a lot tougher. My own e-mail marketer, Whitehat Interactive, comes in for some fire, but for me the key data point is that the SpamNews Digest also uses Whitehat. My own experience with Whitehat has also been nothing but positive.
The important point the Times downplayed, and which I just illustrated, is that in the Googling of America few things are black-and-white (other than accounting). I just did a Google search on the phrase ""Dana Blankenhorn" wrong" (the quote marks keep me from getting David Blankenhorn's backwash). After some effort I found this . (I was also surprised at how much of my old Newsbytes stuff is still rattling around, but that's another story.)
The point is everyone has critics. The answer isn't to become anonymous (as the Times advocates) or hope your name is common (I'm glad mine's unique - I have yet to find another Dana Blankenhorn). New times (and new millennia) demand new skills. Skills like balancing, and reasoning, and being skeptical about what you read. Skills like the ability to do sound research (so you don't create a dossier on the wrong person) and forgiveness (for wrongs of the past, and alleged wrongs).
Americans love to reinvent themselves. They move, change their names, and build new lives. We celebrate the victims of spousal abuse who manage to do this, and when we approach this issue we always think of ourselves in that way. But we always need to hear both sides of the story. Con men (and women) reinvent themselves. Bad guys hide.
This is not one of those black-and-white, Dana-lays-down-the-law Clues. Principles do abide, and there are absolutes - although many of us disagree on what those are. But outside that the world is filled with shades of grey, and the only people I fear are those who never have doubts.. "Save us all from arrogant men, and all the causes they're for. I won't be righteous again, I'm not that sure anymore..."
But I do know this. We go forward into the future. Google is one of the miracles of our age. The ability of anyone to know anyone, or anything, is a miracle we should not take lightly. Nor should we discard it lightly. Like atomic power, it's something we all need to live with and harness. The genie ain't going back into the bottle.
SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)
I will soon have two new markets. GlobalPOV has taken a piece I wrote on identity cards and why Americans won't take 'em. Marketingprofs has taken an occasional column similar to work formerly done at ClickZ. More deals are being negotiated as I write this - get in line.
To join the review team of my latest book, "Moore's Law for the Above-Average." just ask. If you'd like to help market the book as an agent or publisher, the address is the same. My current books include "Boom, Bust & Beyond: The Best of Dana Blankenhorn," "The Time Mirror," and "Living on the Internet".
I still write for Boardwatch, Boardroom and BtoB. I still produce I-Strategy for Adventive.
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Takes on the News
M.I.T Gets It
I'm pleased to announce that the good folks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) understand the thesis of my upcoming book "Moore's Law.". The only shame is they can't explain it as well as I can.
Part of the thesis is that Moore's Law applies to radios, where it doesn't apply to copper. Data radios, used for networking in schemes like 802.11, are getting better by leaps-and-bounds. The implications for how we handle spectrum are enormous. A proper government policy can give everyone, everywhere, immense stores of last-mile broadband at a low, and declining cost.
This is where the world's going. There's nothing industry or government can do to stop it. It's even a good thing. While fiber approaches the last mile from one end wireless is approaching from the other. They're going to meet soon, without the need to drive a golden spike, or pass a law giving any special rights to anyone.
When these technologies do meet, it will destroy asset values. It will destroy the Baby Bells, and it will destroy the remaining cable companies. Because improvements in those technologies can't keep up - they take too long and cost too much. While improving a radio network just means changing radios (and maybe antennas), at prices any consumer can afford.
What government and industry need to do, now, is get ready for it, and accept it. Don't fight it or the benefits will go to other countries, countries without incumbent carriers to keep happy.
Business Media Needs Reform
Just as business needs reform so does the media. Especially the business media.
When politicians are crooked we hire reporters who will get to the bottom of the corruption. We don't subsidize their apologists. When games are fixed, leagues are corrupted or athletes dishonest, we write about them honestly and the readers follow. (Either that or we turn it into a joke, like boxing.) When entertainers do stupid things we have a whole industry to take advantage of their human folly.
But even after businesses are proven to have stolen billions of dollars, to have stolen our retirements and our nation's patrimony, journalism doesn't get the message. Instead I watched last Monday while Larry Kudlow demanded yet-lower taxes, and bobble-head dolls like James Cramer nod in agreement. No matter how much is stolen by how many, the business media remains the crooks' lapdog Despite everything, the boys and girls at CNBC are still cheering on the Dow, selling the party line that it was a few "bad actors" and a gullible investing public that deserved its spanking but has now wised-up. And by the way, pass the tax cuts for the wealthy.
Why is this? It could be that business media thinks it works for big business. It could be they think they work for big investors. You don't bite the hand that feeds you. But TV's business media, one would think, works for the broad mass of investors -- half of Americans own stock. Who, then, does CNBC work for?
Enron and Worldcom were just the tip of a very nasty iceberg. The phonying of American books went very deep indeed. All the big brokers and bankers were in it up to their necks. Not only did they tout stocks they knew were garbage, they also did loans aimed at hiding losses. They did this routinely. Top law firms wrote this crap up (they're supposed to be officers of the court), accountants signed-off on it, billions-and-billions were looted. Where is the outrage?
It will take years to set things right. The so-called "corporate reform" bill just passed through Congress is a joke. We need more than a few Rigas in handcuffs. We need a lot of people, and not just Thomas White (now Secretary of the Army) who are still playing "plausible deniability" games, doing hard time. (This was bipartisan thievery, done with both hands.) And we need the return of rules (like Glass-Steagall, splitting investment from commercial banking so brokers can't play fast-and-loose with taxpayer-protected money) that guarantee there are cops on every corporate street corner.
More important, we need a new, and more skeptical, business press, that advocates for the honest and doesn't assume honesty. Why is Maria Bartiromo getting her own show, after being played like a violin by scores of crooked executives and traders (including Cramer himself) during the boom? Is it her pretty eyes? Based on the record, she looks more like a gullible shill. Her husband helped lead the lambs to the slaughter. Her father-in-law, Saul Steinberg, was the grandfather of all these trends. In politics it would be called, at best, a conflict of interest. In the business press they call it star power.
We don't need any more I-told-you-so from the people who didn't tell us so. We need those people to go away. Then we need some hard dollars put into reporting that will help find the crooks and put them away. We need some editors to tell hard truths, like failing to expense stock options is phonying-up the books - even if they have $54 billion of cash in the bank.
Forget worrying about whether the politicians "get it" or corporate executives "get it." Until the financial media "gets it," keep the TV turned off, and keep your wallet in your pocket.
Silly Season on the Hill
Late July is a strange time on Capitol Hill, especially right before an election. The August recess is coming, when all good Congresspeople will come to the aid of themselves. They want to preen for voters and (most important) their contributors. Don't just watch what they pass in July - most bills won't. Watch what they introduce, which is designed solely for the cashing of checks.
That's really what Howard Berman's abomination is all about. The Congressman from Hollywood wants checks, so he introduces a ridiculous, extreme measure that's on the industry's wish list which he knows won't stand the laugh test. But anyone who cares about the Internet should look carefully at the others lining up for their screen tests -- Howard Coble, R-N.C.; Lamar Smith, R-Texas; and Robert Wexler, D-Fla. These people are technology's enemies and the Internet's enemies. Don't forget it.
While July is the silly season, September is in deadly earnest. Attention is focused on campaigning, so the real evil law gets passed quietly. Here's some real evil law, and please note that Delaware Democrat Joe Biden has gone over to the Dark Side. Biden's plan, which might pass, would put you in jail for five years even if you fiddle with a digital rights management system in order to play your own stuff! The idea that software isn't speech, that the writing of some software may make you a criminal, that you don't own your own property and what runs on it, is as obscene as making speech itself criminal.
What can we learn from this? For all their talk of campaign finance reform, and listening to people, both parties are still in thrall to special interests who are determined to imprison us. The idea that all intellectual property - words, music, movies, etc. - may be subject to Microsoft-like license agreements is an abomination. It's something that will be fought by millions.
Yet the Copyright Industries seem intent on making this another War on Drugs. Whether you agree or disagree with the War on Drugs, you must acknowledge that it's expensive and ongoing. You're adding another war to it, one that will be equally costly, and will eventually place Americans of an even more innocent bent behind bars. Shame on you.
Clued-in is Warren Buffett, who knows what ails American business and makes a ton of money to boot. Warren is the Tiger Woods of investing. You 'da man.
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