For the Week of August 1, 2005
Information doesn't want to be free. It wants to be translucent.
I have been learning about translucence in my new hobby of bread-making. You know you're done kneading when you can take a piece of dough, pull it apart with your fingers, and see light shining through it before it breaks apart.
Information is like that. It wants to be given to those who will pay for it, in a coin selected by those who hold it.
It has been this way for all of man's history, until the 21st century. You chose your knowledge by aligning your life with those who had both information and a compelling attitude you then took on for yourself. Benjamin Franklin was a Freemason, just as Newton was attached to his Royal Academy, Pasteur to the Ecole, Patton to the Army and George H.W. Bush to the CIA.
Even late in the 20th century, knowledge was only available to those who would pay for it. It was translucent.
In some business models, you paid for information with money. In others, like a university, it also meant work. Sometimes the currency was power. In still others was faith.
Thus, you could know how much that house around the corner sold for, but it was going to cost you. You could know how to do that operation, but your education will take 10 years and cost a half-million. We'll let you find out about Niger, Ambasssador Wilson, but you must obey the Administration's orders on what you say about it. We're all descended from aliens, Mr. Cruise. Believe it, after you pay to become a clear.
What has happened in our time is that translucense can't work anymore. In the Age of Google everything is transparent. Or, if the hammer comes down, opaque.
Everyone who believes in translucent power has problems with this. Business models are failing, experts are being challenged by amateurs, power is threatened, and the Scientologists are really, really pissed.
The choice being made by most holders of information is to make it opaque, at the same time technology and popular desires increase to make it transparent.
Most of today's controversies involve people who hold information, who are trying to secure it, trying to keep others from getting it, trying to make it opaque.
- The Bush Administration wanted to control information so it could control the story of Iraq.
- The copyright industries wants to control information so they can keep getting paid for their product.
- Whenever anyone installs a camera, or a database, you probably scream privacy.
The point here is that we're not always on the same side of the transparency vs. opacity debate. We want information on our leaders to be transparent, we want the fruits of art to be transparently available, but when it comes to our own trips and dramas, there we want a wall.
We're all analog creatures in a binary world.
The Internet doesn't allow information to be translucent. It's either available or it is not. If it's online it's transparent. If it's not it's opaque.
Newspapers have tried to make data translucent by hiding old stories behind pay gates, or by requiring registrations. What they've created is a lot of false identities. The news still gets out.
Music and movie companies have tried to make data translucent by charging big bucks for it on the one hand, and sending government as well as lawyers after users on the other hand. They have succeeded, so far, mainly in cutting the size of their own markets, making it even more hit-driven (transparent songs and movies succeed), and the data gets out anyway.
Government has moved to make more data opaque, hiding even non-secret stuff in fear "the terrorists" will get it. What they've done is to antagonize their own voters.
The world is moving toward transparency. Even good universities are having to offer online degrees. I've gone way ahead of many newspaper stories I read by just spending 10 minutes on Google.
And this is where the rubber meets the road. Some like to say "there's no longer any privacy - get over it." In many ways they're right. As soon as you do something publicly, anything, you go from being opaque (like my sainted wife) to being transparent (as I am). Don't believe me? Google her. Now Google me.
This is the choice we all face, when we go out in the world. We can be opaque or transparent. It's not that privacy doesn't exist. It's translucense that doesn't exist. You can't bake bread in an Internet world.
I'm now helping to produce a special blog on Open Source for ZDNet.
I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for EgoScout, a new kind of mediator for mobile phone users.
My last non-fiction book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards. Write me for a PDF copy of my latest novel, "Baptists are for Dunking."
On my Mooreslore blog I've written a new novel, "The Chinese Century." It's a story told in real-time, with real characters, but entirely fictional, dealing with the consequences of the falling dollar. I'm beginning a sequal, "American Diaspora," exploring the themes of the first book but with more fictional characters. It's a true alternate history, but set in the present day.
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Best of the Week
The usually-reliable Rafat Ali (right) did just that this week in his PaidContent, calling out The Guardian's Emily Bell for her skeptical take on Rupert Murdoch's $580 purchase of Intermix.
Not just any bank. A special kind of bank. An industrial bank, in Utah. No offices, no direct deposit. Mainly, they exist to handle credit cards and other consumer loans.
It's the lynch mob mentality fostered by preachers, by politicians, by demagogues, a mentality used to attack Miami vote-counters, Vince Foster, Joe Wilson -- the list goes on and on. It was also used to attack Andy Stephenson.
Instead of having a fixed rate against the dollar, China will let the Dollar rate float against a "basket of currencies."
Adam Penenberg channels IDG head Pat Kenealy (left, by Jay Sandred) on another of those occasional "you're going to have to pay for Web content someday" pieces we see every so often. Well, he's right. But he's also wrong.
Think about it. How often do you use a Web site outside your own country? If you're an American, the answer is not very often. This is true for most people.
When Visa pulls its business from a processor, even for a little while, it's terribly destructive. When they do it permanently, and publicly, it's time to get out the resumes. When they do it alongside American Express, it's a corporate death penalty.
This guy is so Clueless that, in an age when any wingnut can practically become a millionaire by snapping his fingers, he can apparently get his stuff published only in the New York Sun, a right-wing daily with few readers, no business model, and a crappy Web site that won't let you inside its home page without giving them tons of personal information.
That's what Rupert Murdoch has paid for him, buying his Intermix Media and its prime asset, MySpace.
Since Mark Hurd left NCR to run the mess Carly Fiorina made of Hewlett-Packard in March, he has been fighting to turn the old boat around. The company turned in solid numbers in May, he hired away Dell's CIO, Randy Mott, and now he has the credibility with his board needed to prune the deadwood. H-P has a lot of deadwood.
There is a way to accelerate Moore's Law of Training (which doesn't exist) -- publicity. If a good idea, an obvious use of existing technology, is heavily publicized, it can spread very, very quickly, and provide real benefits. ICE is just such an idea.
When an organization that claims to be totally dedicated to the search for objective truth, like the Associated Press, starts slipping bias into its tech coverage, watch out.
The CAN-SPAM act has gone from sick joke to tissue paper, a dead letter, and the entire Internet is now under attack from American spammers. So am I.
Remember that, as Arthur C. Clarke said, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." It's this that's the key to understanding what's really going on in the Harry Potter series.
When the adoption curve steepens you need deep pockets.
The American Diaspora
ZDNet Open Source
Clued-in is Visa, for cutting off Card Services International at the knees and serving notice on the rest of the industry that someone is watching out for identity theft.
Clueless are those thinking Rupert Murdoch did a savvy deal acquiring MySpace.Com.
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