For the Week of August 12, 2002
I got an e-mail recently from a friend, who informed me that a political Weblog he was running had been hacked, and its contents removed. "The war is on the Internet as much as it is anywhere else," he wrote, adding he'd thought he "was too insignificant to attract attention." He now knows this was wrong.
It's a sign of the Internet's progress that it is now seen as a weapon. One sure marker of this was Israel's decision to turn off Palestine's access to the Internet , and close sites hosted by Palestinians. Teams of Arab and Jewish hackers are prowling the Web, attacking one another's sites systematically, and increasingly anyone who takes a position (like my friend) becomes a target. However you feel about the underlying conflict, there's no argument that the Internet is no longer a haven from it.
The War on Terrorism is also filled with Internet stories.
The War excuses the Bush Administration policy of Internet censorship, not just closing classified material from view, but unclassified material, and trying to eliminate public discussion of bugs and security holes, along with other new technologies that a terrorist might take advantage of. Cyber terrorism "czar" Richard Clarke has even attacked 802.11, calling it "irresponsible to sell a product in a way that can be so easily misused by a customer." (Of course, how is the consumer to know if the Administration fights the dissemination of bug reports...)
In the same speech where he was demanding better cyber-defense, of course, Clarke was advocating a firm cyber-offense. He wants hackers to find bugs, but he wants the bugs reported first to the programs' makers and the government, disclosed only after patches are made. He chastised companies that go after those who report bugs, and claimed the government would protect these whistle-blowers. (Whether he can deliver is another question.)
This is not the only conflict that has spilled into cyberspace, either. China's war on its own citizens continues in cyberspace, as it tries to force ISPs into a "voluntary" "standard of behavior" that shuts down all online criticism of the government and makes outside criticism impossible to reach.
It's not just our wars that have reached cyberspace. It's the endless war against crime, a force whose definition differs from place to place, that has moved most forcefully to the online world.
Nations are now moving aggressively outside their own borders against those who are breaking local laws by taking their cyber-wares outside the country. These stories from Italy and Egypt are typical. European governments have joined this movement en masse, passing "key escrow" laws that make you a criminal if you support strong encryption. The aim is to impose local controls on local citizens, and who cares whether what they're doing is legal somewhere else, or even a moral good?
Anyone who runs an international mailing list that has any controversial content at all is feeling the heat. "If this happens too much, and I start getting letters from overseas, it's going to water down my willingness to do things and say things," said Dave Farber, who is otherwise one of my favorite people.
There's a message here for my friend, for Dave Farber, and for everyone who reads, posts or writes material for this medium that some government, some person or movement, might find offensive or wrong.
Freedom isn't free.
I'm not just talking here about freedom in the ACLU, EFF context. They sue you or take your PC so your friends support your court fight to get it back. I'm talking here about basic, live-or-die freedom, the struggles that resulted in the gulags, the death camps, in apartheid and in all the other evils of the 20th century.
As Netizens I feel we owe it to those who forfeited their lives, fortunes and sacred honor for liberty to offer protection when it's threatened online. Governments that deny their own people the give-and-take of honest debate diminish their own legitimacy, and it is the duty of free people everywhere - especially here - to do what we can to fight them.
Sometimes we'll be fighting obvious villains, caching Chinese sites and building technologies to help those people reach our own debates. Sometimes we'll be taking stands that are harder, and risk being accused of taking sides. Sometimes we'll be fighting huge industries, or our own government, which right now seems to be no friend of freedom. But no government's goodwill should be assumed in any case. Even a President Nadine Strossen would be suspect, and should be. Everyone will fight against liberty if they think it's in their best interest, or if they think no one is noticing.
If you choose to join this fight, know you're putting it all on the line. Many who stand for freedom become unpopular. Others become targets. You might die. I might, too. But this choice has been faced by many, many generations, in many, many places. And always, in the past, there have been courageous people who answered the call.
These times call for courage, yes. Do you have it?
SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)
I have opened 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. I'm presently negotiating with Corante to do a blog based on my upcoming book "Moore's Law for the Above Average." But I'd love more work, and I'm waiting for your e-mail.
To join the review team of the "Moore's Law" book 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, Boardroomand BtoB. I still produce I-Strategy for Adventive.
I'd like more readers, so tell your friends, clients, partners, and Congressperson about a-clue.com. You have my permission to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know.
Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...
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Takes on the News
Death of Mass-Market Affiliate Marketing
I've been holding off on this for some time, hoping things would change. But it's time to announce the death of mass-market affiliate marketing.
My evidence is a statement from Amazon.com. It's the largest outfit still doing affiliate marketing, it has always had the largest network, and it's the only network I ever put a major effort into. The statement shows a balance of zero for the last quarter, added to my balance of zero for the previous quarter, for a total of zero over the last six months. I've been putting Amazon links into my stories for years (including my affiliate tag acluecom). If I'm making nothing, absolutely nothing, no one's making much. Given the lack of fight I've heard over this from the "affiliate community" it's pretty obvious there is no longer such a community.
Affiliate marketing was one of the great inventions of the 1990s Web. But it's not a panacea. As the success of Wz.Com (the ad above this item is an affiliate marketing deal) proves, you must have a focused program, and you must work the program hard. That's a great lesson. Don't depend on others to do your work. There's no such thing as a free lunch. The saying that "fads don't last" also comes to mind.
Seeking Computer Media Winners
The "computer press" faces the same credibility crisis affecting the "business press." It's advertising dependence along with a lack of credibility based on a reluctance to bite the hand feeding it.
The big "winner" here has to be IDG. The company stayed private, so keeps its losses secret. The company made a Faustian bargain with China that has proven enormously profitable. The company stayed focused on "paid content," in the form of market research, and only chased consumer dollars with the house' money. While it has lost some battles it has won the war. It still maintains a healthy online presence, with journalists making good salaries.
The second "winner" (if you can call it that) must be CNET. Despite its own layoffs it's still able to buy other companies. Its biggest challenge now is to fight off its feisty British challenger, The Register, which not only gets scoops but writes them in a charming style. The Register's biggest problem remains a business problem, extracting the kind of income from readers that CNET wins through such sites as Download.Com and Shopper.Com. When the clouds lift CNET will be able to ramp-up staff quickly while The Register is still dithering about whether it can take a risk. (Although the fact that CNET is still public may increase the dither rate - expect a move at some point to take it private.)
It's still too early to call INTM Group (excuse me, JupiterMedia ) a winner, or even a survivor. The question remains whether it will run out of cash before it can turn a bottom-line profit. The company is hoping it can bring in cash with Jupiter market research reports, but the credibility of that source is open to question. Its challenges are management challenges, and its unwillingness to get a Clue (or accept our Clues with anything resembling good grace) makes me wonder whether they have the chops for the job.
What these winners and potential winners all have in common is a firm Internet presence. The Web, it turned out, was not an option, but a necessity and that will remain the case.
Want more proof? The last chapter in our story is number 11, the chapter under which onetime industry leader Ziff Davis filed bankruptcy . The company's decision to sell its online operation to CNET proved fatal. Whether Ziff eventually emerges from bankruptcy is irrelevant. Anything that does come out will be a skeleton tomorrow's players will get to chew on.
Why Moore Is a Pessimist
Moore's Law is based on an engineer's precise analysis of what people can do working together. Moore's Law accounts for no materials other than silicon, and no breakthroughs other than those that created the first microprocessors in the 1960s.
That's why, in my opinion, Moore's a pessimist. There are too many variables outside his law. And among those variables are competition, not just among entrepreneurs and established companies, but among nations.
That's how I read the story of Lenslet Labs, an Israeli start-up in the area of Digital Signal Processors (DSPs). DSPs are specialized math chips which translate digital signals into analog waves, and vice-versa. They're used in everything from cell phones to music players. They're a $4.3 billion market.
Lenslet's breakthrough is to "simply" (nothing is that simple) use optics rather than electronics in its DSP design. Light moves faster than electrons. An "optical signal processor" would require new software algorithms, but in theory you'd increase performance by a factor of 1,000, not two or four, at a stroke.
Optical processing is just one of several breakthroughs that could easily send Moore's Law improvements rocketing along through the lives of your grandchildren. Remember that in all these areas we're not talking about increments, even big imcrements like those of Moore. We're talking about giant leaps for mankind.
Clued-in (finally) is Pressplay, which has launched a serious negotiation with the market . The story has a long way to go, but the Copyright Industries may be about to turn a corner. If they stay focused on the long term, rather than the short term, they may turn that corner. Lawyers and DRM software cost money. You make money only from willing consumers.
Clueless is Clare Hart, CEO of Factiva, predicting that all online news will require payment within a few years. This was pure spin, a claim made in her company's private interest. The fact that a reporter bought that spin, and printed it as fact, speaks volumes about the problems of the computer press in particular, and the media in general.
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