For the Week of April 7, 2003
By the time you read this, I hope, the Iraqi war is about over. (It may not be. My crystal ball, like yours, is hazy.) It was harder than optimists (like me) expected. (Despite repeated denials, the Administration did sell this as a short, easy war.)
And despite the fall of Baghdad, the struggle has really just begun. How can a British colonial creation mixing Shias, Sunnis and Kurds be transformed into a modern democratic state? How can we replace the rule of the gun with compromise? How can we put all this back into Iraqi hands, and whose hands will they be? How can we heal the rifts we've opened in Iraq?
The next question is how can we heal the rifts we've made in the world? I'm not just talking about France here. Even Canada and Mexico opposed this war. The UN Security Council is balking at helping with rebuilding. The U.S. is being portrayed as a fat, slovenly giant. Can we win the war on terror against the will of the world?
Finally we come to healing the rift within America itself. This war has divided America as nothing since Vietnam, and distrust remains high on both sides. Walls have been built between neighbors. Hatred has festered. Name-calling has been fierce. Fox is called "Fascist News," CNN the "Communist News Network." Al Jazeera has been attacked as one would attack a military target . Even the BBC has drawn friendly fire.
It is this Civil War that must be addressed online. The great failure of the Internet as a medium is that, so far, it has stoked controversy rather than quenching it. No Web source has succeeded in fulfilling the promise offered by the Meta Network 20 years ago.
Izumi Aizu reminded me recently that computer conferencing was originally created as a tool for organizing military operations. Scientists and engineers populated the original Internet. Netiquette - the assumption of politeness, the belief in the scientific method - was universal. Everyone was on the same side.
Meta founders Frank Burns and Lisa Kimball "share deeply held values of candor, curiosity, cooperation, and creativity." As Izumi explained to me, "the founders are not promoting warfare, but rather trying to be very civil, rational and prevent wars and mistakes that causes the war."
Services like Meta and The Well, however, quickly became associated in the public mind with liberal causes. Rival networks, like the Heritage Foundation Town Hall , became equally associated with conservative causes.
The result, in both cases, is an echo chamber effect. The Web acts, not to moderate differences, but to highlight them, and to validate group identity. Whether the subject is sport, business, or a hobby like antique cars, differences result in flames, and then a turning-away. The premise of common ground is lost.
It is time we admit a profound and disturbing truth. It is no accident that politics in the age of the Internet has become increasingly angry, intolerant, and caustic. We no longer live in a shared experience. We live individual experiences, and share only according to our prejudices.
How do we change this? We have great tools on the front-end for creating and organizing messages. What we lack are tools on the back-end that scale moderation so people feel safe in expressing their differences. Facilitation has just not scaled.
This is partly because messaging is a human activity, and what must be scaled here are human beings. A vast army of moderators must be created, with one set of standards for disciplining users, and for disciplining one another.
This is very costly and there is as yet no business model for it. There hasn't been one since pay-by-hour services like CompuServe were succeeded by AYCE (All You Can Eat) Internet services like America Online. AOL tried, at first, to moderate its discussions, but this fell apart on the shoals of economics.
The current leader in moderation and facilitation is Participate Systems of Chicago , but since the dot-bust they have focused entirely on the business market, working with small groups at clients like Wrigley, SAP, and Ace Hardware. For the company, this has meant survival, and survival in this business environment is a very good thing.
Microsoft is a Participate client, and it would be Clued-in if Microsoft could hire the company to create a real town hall, rather than an echo chamber, within MSN (and with links to the outside) which could help in this healing process. Barring that someone else with money and patriotism could hire Participate, not just to build such a town hall, but to train an army of moderators who would staff it. Or they could create a company like it.
So this week's Clue isn't addressed to you specifically. It's addressed instead to non-readers, billionaires like George Soros, Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, and millionaires like Ted Turner, people with the capital and patience to build this back-end, to do the marketing necessary to get the system growing, and to subsidize the search for a working business model.
You can't just build it and have them come. Before turning on anything it is vital to create ground rules, and a process for enforcing them. What specific messages are out of bounds? What penalties accrue? How do disputes between moderators and users escalate? How are moderators judged, and compensated? The process must be clear, it must be made public in simple English, and it must be enforced in an even-handed manner.
There is an enormous opportunity here, one that has yet to be seized. And what's at stake is more than a profit. It's the health of the nation itself.
This won't be cheap, or easy. You will be called a traitor by every side. But Barry
Goldwater was frightenly wrong 40 years ago. Chairman Dana says, "Moderation in the pursuit of justice is the greatest virtue. Without moderation there is no justice."
SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)
The reviews (well, some of them) are in. "Dana, it is GOOD," raves Pete duPont, lawyer, futurist and once a candidate for President. "This is some really powerful 'stuff.' I think you've got a winner," says Drew Kaplan of DAK Catalog fame.
Find out what the excitement is about. Buy The Blankenhorn Effect at Amazon.Com , then go back and say nice things. You can use the ASIN number, 1553953673, and recommend it to readers of other, similar books. You can also save on shipping when you buy the book at Amazon, over the cost of buying it elsewhere.
If you can convince some more published reviewers to read The Blankenhorn Effect and recommend it to their readers, please send me a name and address. In exchange, you'll get the PDF version of my second book, The Blankenhorn Effect: Boom, Bust & Beyond. This is a collection of columns from a-clue.com, organized chronologically and by subject, with additional commentary from yours truly.
I have begun working full-time for MediaPost , but I have also written lately for BtoB Boardroom and Mobile Radio Technology . You can follow the continuing story of The Blankenhorn Effect on my "Moore's Lore" blog . I also contribute to NowEurope and GreaterDemocracy .
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...
Your list is your most important asset. But what happens when someone forgets who you are and you get on a "spam" blacklist? Your asset becomes worthless.
Need a-clue on how to avoid that? Get your list audited, and managed professionally, by the fine folks at Whitehat , part of the American Computer Group , a long-term leader in database services for direct marketers.
When your list is truly opt-in, not only do you become a white hat yourself, but your e-mails are read, even anticipated, by your audience. That means higher conversions and more money in your pocket.
If you're serious about Internet Commerce, you need Whitehat Interactive . Get it today.
Takes on the News
Moore Needed For Smart Homes
A recent New York Times story on "smart homes" is a great example of the top-down, Moores Law-ignorant kind of home construction now taking place.
There is demand for "Internet-everywhere" and "security-aware" homes. So what do so-called "smart" builders do? In this story, they run lots of wires.
Wrong! Systems like the electronic home of "Smart Systems Technologies" of Albuquerque cost $9,000, and they don't retrofit. (They only work with new construction.) This is phone company economics.
A real "smart home" will be based on wireless networking, with cheap sensor chips (they don't require much input, and their output to the network is minimal as well) spread around the home. It's essentially a software-based solution that can be bought in increments, starting with a home server, extending to individual applications (complete kit for under $50) as-needed.
What's really cool is that this, too, is an intermediate step. By 2010 this functionality will be built-in to standard refrigerators, home stereos, and thermostats, probably based on TinyOS, and your out-of-pocket cost for this will be in the hundreds of dollars, not thousands.
Now there is a story here. What you've got now are basically mainframe-like "solutions" in search of a problem. That's a good step along the evolutionary road. You've got to have something that works before you start refining it down. But it's the refined product that will appeal to the mass market.
This war saw the creation of a new term, "Backpack journalists." They bring with them everything needed to collect and distribute a multimedia story - satellite phones, digital cameras, etc. - into a war zone.
In this war they're mainly on the northern front, living in Kurdistan and, like Preston Mendenhall, mainly giving text reports to their bosses back home. The lack of slack these folks get was well illustrated by CNN's cancellation of Kevin Sites' warblog .
As smart homes are a mainframe solution to a looming problem, so backpack journalism might be thought to be in its "Unix Workstation" era. The equipment is too costly for anyone but a big media employee. It's too bulky to really deliver all it promises. It's easy to forget how light a non-embedded war correspondent really has to travel.
For me one of the most interesting scenes in "The Story of G.I. Joe," a World War II flick based on the life of Ernie Pyle, is how he learns he has won the Pulitzer Prize. It happens when he goes to the rear, to his typewriter, which he can't carry with him at the front. (Personal note. One of my family's treasured momentos is a pre-war article Pyle did on one of his poker buddies, a distant relative (and Washington, D.C. cop) named "Eddie Comiskey" (nee Korzeniewski). Eddie died in the line of duty. The article was an obituary.)
Moore's Law means that today's "backpack" will evolve into something like Pyle's typewriter, and then will evolve further into a wearable suit that can create, store, edit, and deliver finished product on-demand. Once that suit gets down to a popular price point, a price a freelancer can afford, then things will really change.
The problem with putting an 802.11 system at Starbucks, or building a municipal system, is there is no real business model.
While the equipment is cheap, and getting cheaper, it will never be free (if for no other reason than backhaul costs) and maintaining a network of hotspots won't be free, either. Money must flow in from somewhere, enough money to make a profit for system operators.
That's why I'm excited about word that R-V parks are now getting interested in Wi-Fi. As with hotels, this can be an up-sell, then a marketing aid. Eventually it's bundled into the regular price of the park, like water and electrical service. The same thing could be done at trailer parks, by the way, leading to the wild idea that "trailer trash" will soon have better Internet broadband service than the Bell-bound palaces of the rich.
Clued-in is The Gap hiring eToys founder Toby Lenk The eToys failure was a failure of scaling. That's not a problem here. Lenk is a savvy marketer who understands Web design and listens to customers.
Clueless is how Broadcom dumped the head of its server chips unit . "We liken Broadcom's challenges to those faced by Yugoslavia," wrote one analyst. That's not good.
A-Clue.Com is a free email publication, registered with the U.S. Copyright
Office as number TXu 888-819. We're on the Web at http://www.a-clue.com/.