For the Week of August 15, 2005
For the last few weeks I've been getting serious about something I had worked 20 years on.
That something is a Web site called voic.us. It's designed to be an organizer and advocate for Atlanta - her people, her businesses, her interests, her daily history.
Regular readers of this newsletter already know much of what I'm on about here.
- I believe a Community Network System (CNS) must have a business model that shares its wealth with all who contribute to it.
- I believe it must have deep commerce functionality that lets small businesses deliver their Unique Selling Propositions (USPs) online.
- I believe it must be based on a modular, scalable software platform, with a community of developers who can help it reach its potential.
For the first time in my life I have partners who want to do this with me.
I first wrote a business plan for this site in 1985. I called it Atlanta Telstar. It was crap. It was unrealistic. I was embarrassed by it.
But I never really left it alone. Most of my journalism career has been built on covering the technologies necessary for this to happen. I did my writing business under the name Have Modem, Will Travel. I covered the Internet intensively starting in the mid-1980s. I sought out a telecommunications beat with Newsbytes, and made electronic commerce my beat at NetGuide, in the 1990s.
I never saw a chance for success until recently. We now have open standards, CNS systems that work out-of-the-box, and 10 years of experience with e-commerce. We also have a growing community of diarists called the blogosphere, some of them talented amateur journalists anxious for a chance to make good.
At the same time the journalism "profession" I joined in the 1970s has been dying. It's been getting squeezed by the high cost of publishing on the one hand and the low value of information on the other. All the creative industries are being squeezed in this way, the result being we now live in a rigid class system, much like that of the 19th century, in which the favored few hold all the cards and the vast majority have nothing.
Voic.us is designed to change this.
It's designed to eliminate the need for scale, on both the commerce and the talent side of the equation. The claim sounds remarkable. But the fact is that scale is not a prerequisite for success in the real world. We still have millions of small businesses, small artisans of every stripe, small professional practices. Their problem is they have been unable to fulfill their Unique Selling Propositions online, to demonstrate the difference between themselves and the big boxes, or big media, or big firms.
Most bloggers have small audiences with very specific interests. These interests combine geography, age, race, professions, and personal interests. Many of these small audiences would, when combined intelligently, create just enough of a market for small businesses to afford. By matching bloggers and like-minded businesses, you can define and express each business's USP, with a mutual profit for both blogger and business.
Sounds crazy? What I'm talking about is delivering customers to small businesses, and a high economic value-per-page that lets the site pay bloggers more for their participations than rivals imagine possible. And in the current environment, that won't have to be much.
I'm not stupid. It's a long way from here to there. I've been learning just how long it is by studying Atlanta blogging for a daily column designed for the site, called Atlanta Blogswarm.
Each day I spend some hours looking for new blogs, and checking for new content through an RSS feed. What I've found, so far, is not of enormous value. No one is running around covering local city council meetings, anxious to have their words repeated to the neighbors. Much of the creative necessary for this site to work isn't online yet.
But there is interest on the part of those who are online in finding bigger audiences. I've already found several "group blogs" that exist mainly to aggregate the work of several bloggers and present it in one place. These self-organizing groups can, with a little work, define audiences that would in turn drive business.
Still, from here it looks like a journey of a million miles. I'm depending on partners to deliver the software I need, while I provide some vision, some content, and the necessary patience. I'm expecting a slow ramp-up, and some months of experimentation before we know whether we even have something worth advertising.
My guess is that, right now, there are dozens of others in this game, all around the U.S. I'm calling it the Local Web business. We're seeing newspapers, TV groups, and entrepreneurs sniffing around the area.
But none yet has the key Clue - deep commerce can attract deep content, and this is a software business. Your platform must deliver more functionality, plus promises of ever-more functionality down the road. It's about online software and a search for business models. It's not an editorial business at all. It's not about newspapers or blogs or citizen journalists or any of the other buzzwords you'll hear about in the next several months.
It's about scaling intimacy.
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.
You are encouraged to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know. Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...
Best of the Week
The question of Wi-Fi and real estate is about to come to a head, at Boston's Logan Airport.
The mystery is, how are these people still in the game? Overstock is a money-losing Amazon clone which seems to spend its entire marketing budget on cable television.
Om Malik's pointing to Robert Scoble's friends hammering Andrew Orlowski over the IE7 beta got me thinking about blogging social structures.
1. Laptops are about to be replaced by mobile phones. 2. Mobile phones are going to take the music download market from the iPod.
Apparently Cisco didn't even tell the Department of Homeland Security about the bug in its software that leaves the Internet as we know it vulnerable to hacker attack. This despite the fact that Cisco's notification would have been confidential, and that it is required.
I am coming to believe the next political divide will be technological. That is, your politics will be defined by your attitude toward technology.
Unless we have a way of getting rid of those who violate some ethical standard, why should anyone believe any of us? Why have any standards if we can't get rid of violators?
The American Diaspora
ZDNet Open Source
Clued-in is O'Reilly & Associates, whose Portland convention turned out to be a real historical landmark.
Clueless are the liberals claiming a candidate who lost his race won a moral victory. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
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