by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume IX, No. XLVIII

This Week's Clue: Scaling the Human Side

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This Week's Clue: Scaling the Human Side
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
Best of the Week
The American Diaspora
ZDNet Open Source
Clued-in, Clueless
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For the Week of November 29, 2005

Since the Web was spun, e-commerce success has been defined by replacing human power with computer power.

The original Yahoo, circa 1995, was an acronym, for Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle. It was hand-coded, by editors. It was an index, not a search engine. But it couldn't scale. Even Yahoo eventually phased it out in favor of a search engine, but the company (the whole industry) was ready for someone to concentrate wholly on search and take over - which someone did.

All the big plays on the Web are self-service, even today. You program them, you put them online, and the work is done by the users. It's all unpaid. From the days of Geocities to today's Blogswarm, the work of people gets nothing (or nearly nothing) - it's what computers do that counts.

How do you get around this? With mass market content. You produce a single piece of work that can be seen hundreds of thousands, millions of times, and generate enough cash to pay the freight for everyone. So what's the most popular mass market content on the Web today? Right, Google again. Produced by a computer.

This computer-driven business model is now driving down salaries across the white collar world, which is to say, around America. Writers work for nothing, software costs nothing. Service is all, and service is provided by software, not by people.

But that is not the way the world works. The real world consists of people, not computers. Markets as conversations, or so sings the Cluetrain Manifesto, brings money to the people in the conversation. That's the way it's supposed to be. That's not the way it is.

Voic.Us, which finally opened last week, is my attempt to change that trend. It looks like a regular Drupal site, running articles about local blogs and blogging in the Atlanta area.

What makes it different is its business model, which is:

  • A local advertising network for local content.
  • Alliances with existing publishers, churches, and community groups.
  • E-commerce services for local merchants.

Unlike self-service Web sites, whose economics are driven by people working for the computer, Voic.Us will have the computer work for the people:

  • With a local ad network, local sites can make money, and local businesses can afford to advertise.
  • By providing publishers with an engine that makes money right away, you get competition for the local newspaper, instant competition from a host of weekly and monthly papers.
  • A suite of e-commerce services can let those publishers bring their own advertisers into the mix, generating far more revenue per page than possible with mere advertising.

This is the opposite of the way today's Web world works, I know. It's also quite different from the way today's media world works, with branding and scale destroying local businesses in every niche.

A lot of people will be taking little pieces of money out of this, starting from the day we open the ad network. That's intentional. Without a fair revenue share, you can't expect people to serve you beyond a certain point. But if you're just sharing ad revenue, local Web ad revenue, you don't stand a chance, either.

That's where the e-commerce comes in. Every local business has its own Unique Selling Proposition. For some it's product knowledge. For others it's personal attention. For still others it's quality of ingredients, or simply good taste.

When you deliver real sales to a real business, you do more than earn advertising revenue. The trouble is local businesses have been unable to afford this kind of service. It required too much up-front investment from a Web developer who was accustomed to delivering sites, not solutions.

That's where I hope voic.us can be different.

We want to deliver a wide variety of Web services, that publishers can mix-and-match for their business clients. Some need a database, others an e-mail list, still others may benefit from IM, and others may need a combination.

It takes time to learn which. You have to spend time in the business, talking to the businessperson, and experiment a little.

Who does this any more?

Local ad salesmen do. Folks who work for small publishing outfits do. They don't just take orders. They talk to their customers. They know their customers.

Give these people a suite of Web tools to try out - not just sites or ads but a full suite - and they can get to work crafting solutions.

That's what I'm on about. The content is just a front-end to the new world, in which every business can be an Internet business, and succeed at it.

Computers should work for people, not the other way around.

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Shameless Self-Promotion

I've got a new job. I'm now editor of Atlanta voic.us, a Web start-up aimed at building a community Web platform with a real business model. I'm also all alone in writing the Open Source Blog for ZDNet. (When this started there were three of us.)

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...

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Best of the Week

What Becomes a Blog Most?

This is part of what's wrong with corporate blogging. Whether it's an executive blog, a publisher blog, or a product blog, it's just too predictable. The writing is often so strait-jacketed (in order to make it replicable and corporate-approved) that the life is knocked out of it.

Sony's Crocodile Tears

Sony says it's (sort of) sorry. They say they'll take the CDs back (although they don't say how they will find the things). They say they won't do that again, exactly, but might do something close to it. Too late.

Give me Hotzones or Give Me Death

There is no need for such zones to be defined by political boundaries. There is no need for there to be just one such network in an area. There are tons of places near me that have multiple networks in reach. That's the beauty of the unlicensed band.

Phishing and Terrorism

John Robb, at his Global Guerillas site, today has one of his most fascinating posts yet, a comparison between terrorism networks and phishing networks.

Content Fetish

One of the strangest aspects of the post Bell break-up era has been the continuing Bell fascination with content. The reason for it: cable envy.

War Among the Democrats

Clueless Washington analysts feel that the Bush Administration's fall from grace means we have to sit through years before we're delivered anything interesting. The real battle, in fact, starts now.

Stringer's Choice

DRM systems aren't about software. DRM systems are about hardware.

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The American Diaspora

Table of Contents


ZDNet Open Source

Sony Rootkit used Open Source

How to Make Money From Open Source Apache

The Growing Drumbeat for Open Source Patch Management

Don't Steal the Open Source Brand

The Usual Suspects are on a Patent Hunt

Rhetoric vs. Reality at SAP

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Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is Rep. John Murtha, only three years (and over 100,000 lives) too late.

Clueless is Howard Stringer, who may end up ending the copyright wars by over-reaching.

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