For the Week of November 4, 2002
America elects a new Congress tomorrow and the most important economic issue isn't even in play.
It's not monetary policy, or fiscal policy. It's not foreign policy or military policy. It's tech policy. America's tech policy is, quite simply, a wreck:
Is it any wonder that the tech economy has collapsed and shows no signs of coming back? I had my oil changed last week by a Cisco-trained fiber networking expert. He hadn't had a day off from oil changing in five weeks, but figured he was lucky to be working at all, at anything. The horror stories coming in via my e-mail box would break your heart.
Most people who know anything, who even have a scent of a Clue, dislike or detest Washington's tech policies, yet Washington continues on with impunity.
In fact, it's getting worse.
In the latest outrage Republican Tom Davis of Virginia (head of that party's House campaign committee) and Democrat Jim Turner of Texas, who together "lead" the House subcommittee on technology, demanded that the government ignore free software , "explicitly rejecting licenses" that require that the results of innovative work be shared .
The letter turns logic completely on its head. Software written under the Microsoft monopoly, which you can't see, can't patch, and can't copy, is somehow more secure than Linux-based solutions that you can read, can patch and can copy? It's positively Orwellian. It's the kind of tech policy that reads like an Al Qaeda plant. But there's a good reason why this is happening - just follow the money
Congressmen Adam Smith of Washington, Ron Kind of Wisconsin and Jim Davis of Florida - all self-styled "New Democrats" - are trying to line up their colleagues on behalf of the Davis-Turner letter. (Smith, it should be noted, doesn't take e-mails directly, only through a crap "contact" form so he can ignore anything from non-constituents.) Meanwhile, the Clued-in on the Right feed us nice rhetoric but what else are they doing? What they're doing is screwing us - see Davis, Thomas above.
Here's what should really make you mad, however. They'll all get away with it. None of these people are likely to lose tomorrow, and if any do it will be over other issues. While Microsoft and Hollywood are amply represented in Washington , users simply are not. Thus, users are rolled.
But what's happening now (and this is important) is that the economy is being rolled right along with users. Because technology is now a mass market, the Internet economy something we all play in. For the first time there is a "public interest" in tech policy - it can no longer be the sole property of an elite.
What may surprise you is how easy it would be to fight these people. The groups that define American politics today - gun groups, abortion groups, ideological and labor groups - none of these groups are very large in terms of either numbers or (frankly) money. The whole industry of controlling government - the lobbying, the contributions, the public advocacy, all of it - is worth only a few billion dollars. (Total spending on the 2002 election is actually less than $1 billion .) And none of the groups mentioned above have a budget much bigger than a single chip start-up.
But here's a basic democratic truth. A tightly-organized minority will beat a loosely-organized majority every time. The intensity of interest in an issue is more important on Election Day than general support. If you can get just a few million people to passionately believe in your issue, so that the issue determines how they will vote, you have political power.
Here's another basic truth of democracy. One wealthy person can, if properly dedicated, wield enormous political power. Most of the funding that brought on the Clinton investigations, and his impeachment, came from just one man - Richard Mellon Scaife.
In other words, the present situation isn't that difficult to turn around. The cast of Gilligan's Island could pull it off. An eccentric billionaire and his wife (serving their personal ideological interest instead of his private interest), a professor (of political science, hopefully), a nominal leader, a movie star, and some little buddies (with Mary Ann, of course) could pull it off.
The plan is simple.
First, you raise the seed capital, a few million or so. You open an office, and lay out your positions. You hire a lobbyist, and some reporters to put out position papers and press releases. You get one Congressperson to introduce what you really want. You create a "scorecard" for the rest that identifies your friends and your enemies. (Your lobbyist moves in mysterious ways to get direct votes, even on hopeless amendments, in order to create the scorecard.) You organize your voters around the scorecard, run ads around it, contribute to your friends and work against your enemies based on it. Most of the work is above-board, and the dirty deeds can be done dirt cheap. (Watergate was a third-rate burglary because of its budget.)
If just one billionaire gave, say, $100 million to an existing organization involved in this fight, say the Electronic Freedom Foundation , we'd be well on our way.
If Tom Davis, or Adam Smith, knew their re-election depended on keeping users happy, rather than monopolists, and knew they would be punished unless they supported an open tech policy, you'd be amazed at how quickly they (or some of their friends) would turn around. That's the way U.S. politics is played. The political death of one will put the "skeer" into all of them.
But without an agenda, without an "education" program, without some pet projects, and (most important) without an organization that can put the fear of political oblivion into their hearts, politicians will continue to follow the money.
So long as they do, the tech depression will continue as well.
SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)
Forget what I wrote two weeks ago. If you tried to buy "Moore's Lore" and failed, write me a note and I'll take care of you.
The book has a new name. "The Blankenhorn Effect: How to Put Moore's Law to Work for You." It has a new publisher, and I have a new attitude.
You can still follow the continuing story on my "Moore's Lore" blog . My other books (which will also get new names soon) include "Boom, Bust & Beyond: The Best of Dana Blankenhorn," , "The Time Mirror," and "Living on the Internet" . I still write for Boardwatch , Boardroom , Marketing Profs Thom Reece's eComProfits and 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...
I'm a very, very lucky fellow. The World's Best Branding Expert, Rob Frankel, is a personal friend of mine.
Rob doesn't have a glamorous lobby or a huge entourage of sycophants. He just has great ideas. This is the only reason the world doesn't acknowledge Rob for what he is, which is, of course, The World's Best Branding Expert.
Before he figures this out, before he gets an entourage, shades, and a skyscraper with his name on it (because he increased his prices by a factor of 10), get the book , the tapes , and buy an hour of his time .
Do it now, before his prices go up and you can't afford him! Become a Big-Time Brand like me! You'll be glad you did.
Takes on the News
Why Buy The Blankenhorn Effect?
The folks at Net Paradox have launched a major campaign against the present FCC policy of giving Bells and cable outfits anything they want.
The best explanation of what this campaign is about, and the best way to get public support for its aims, is by buying "The Blankenhorn Effect: How to Put Moore's Law to Work for You."
While preparing (hopefully for the last time) the print edition of this book, I described aspects of it to a half-dozen people. None were experts, but all were interested. It wasn't just how I said it (I do get excited when I'm wound-up) it was what I said. In a word, the message resonated.
The big political problem advocates of open systems and standards face is that people don't know what the argument's about. They don't know what's in it for them. This book explains it. It can be a vital ingredient as the public education portion of a political campaign. I'm more than ready to discuss volume deals which will be better than you can get from a publisher, because I'm the publisher.
Don't believe me? Ask for the PDF version . As a reader of A-Clue.Com, I trust you to get it in the right hands. If we can get a million, 2 million or 5 million people to read this book, we have the makings of a political force on behalf of open systems, open standards, open networks, and a new dawn for the technology industries.
Spin, Spin, Spin
You can tell a candidate (or businessman) is in trouble when they spin bad news to the point of the ridiculous. They think they're trying to convince you, but they're really trying to convince themselves.
Even News.Com detected the smell of super-spin in the comments of Yusuf Mehdi introducing MSN 8. "We're on a monster roll," he said (probably with lettuce and mayonnaise) concerning advertising revenues, although no advertisers' names were mentioned. (News.Com's skepticism was fueled by reports such as this from eMarketer, indicating that revenues plunged in the first half of 2002.) Could it be that the "big advertiser" is Microsoft itself? (It could be.)
Unlike News.Com, we actually did a little investigating. As this was written, MSNBC was featuring ads for Flonase and the University of Phoenix (I've gotten spam from the latter) on its home page, with inside ads from such outfits as Office Depot, Best Buy and Lendingtree.com. The site has also put together a bunch of tiny buttons for Web brokers and merchants. Yes, the MSN salesmen have been very creative but, no, we don't know how many of these deals are for cash and how many are performance-based. It's a big improvement from the bad-old days of Classmates.Com, but also ask yourself how much MSN paid, in salaries, commissions and other costs, to generate these ads. Sales mean nothing if profits aren't there.
Here's another great piece of spin . Does $50 billion for online content sound pretty good? Well, what exactly are we talking about? There already was a big database services industry. Aren't we also rolling the ISP industry into this? We're not talking here about people paying for blogs.
Your Clue here is simple. If you don't see specifics, don't buy the headline.
Google Forced to Grow Up
Adolescence is a bitch, as I'm learning again with my own kids. But the benefit is that when you're forced to grow up, you find out what you're really about. Sometimes, that's not bad.
This is just as true for companies as it is for people. We know what eBay's about - they'll spend as little-as-possible on policing their auctions and let both sides of every transaction beware.
So it is with Google, which is probably why Eric Schmidt was named its chairman, despite his failure to boost Novell. Schmidt's job is basically to steer Google through the ethical minefields. The most important lesson comes from Billy Joel, "The Only People I fear are those who never have doubts."
Google needs advertising to survive, but will only accept ads on its own terms. Schmidt's job is to tell advertisers their pop-up, pop-under and pop-over tricks are self-defeating.
Crooks are always trying to manipulate search engine results. Google's response is to cut off access to those who try anything funny. Schmidt's job is to explain, accept, and defend the resulting lawsuits.
As important as it is to know when to fight, it's also important for an adult to know when to back-down. So Google has quietly begun censoring its French and German listings, based on government dictates , while maintaining the same listings on its U.S. site. (Google works in China through a partner - there as yet no www.google.cn).
Your Clue? There really are no simple answers. Grow up.
Clued-in is Intel, ignoring the "New York Times" and putting $150 million into WiFi start-ups.
Clueless will be the assumption that Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tim Hagen lost tomorrow because he pursued an Internet strategy . No one will examine whether his Internet marketing strategy was correct. (Based on the above link, it wasn't.)
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