Ask not what politics will do to the Internet, but what the Internet will do to politics.
You can expect to hear a lot over the next few months about how politicians will approach Internet issues, and I'm going to put in my two cents at Voxcap.Com, starting September 20, with a series on Internet political issues you can use as a "voters' guide" and forum for debate. But before politicians hit the Internet, I think it's time for the Internet to hit politicians, by offering Clues to what a marketplace of networked computers will do to some of our most intractable problems, like education.
U.S. education quality is an inverted Bell curve. We're great at grades K-3, and our colleges are the best in the world. Between the extremes we suck. Most of these kids suffer in huge protected compounds, prisons really, where they have some of the rights of dogs. With every act of violence that situation grows worse. (Dogs at least have the protection of the ASPCA, and often get better food.)
Yet we know that the Internet and computer networks can change all this. They give every student access to the same global resources. They handle all sorts of paperwork, allowing for a flatter organization chart and personal attention based on information. (These are basic lessons we experience in our business lives every day.)
You can pay for these changes by integrating schools back into the community. Every middle school and high school should have evening, weekend and summer uses. We can contract with music schools, art schools, YMCAs, Sylvan Learning Centers and groups like the Learning Annex to re-use buildings and grounds on evenings, weekends, and during the summer. We can also contract to keep kids excited and learning until 6 PM, eliminating the latchkey problem.
Networked computers are just one component of this solution, but they're a necessary part. Just as you can't do real Permission Marketing on lower-cost products without lots of data on individual customers, you can't customize school curricula without lots of information, backed by interaction. Just as you can't flatten business organization charts without networks and information that flows correctly, you can't do this in public sector education.
The impact of networked computers on educational process is no longer subject to debate. Competition among schools and teachers must exist everywhere. That is what should be imposed from the top, from the federal government, in order to be effective.
I say tear down the prison schools. (Use part of them and rent the rest as lofts.) Then get smaller facilities that are part of the community. (Any office suite can be a small high school.) Customize public education for every child. Use distance learning, drop student-teacher ratios, and empower teachers to be themselves. Test regularly to make sure kids learn, and also to learn how they learn. Test, in other words, as a teaching tool.
None of this is simple, but there's something here for everyone. Teachers and students can be treated as individuals. Parents can be given a range of choices, and know kids are working the same hours they are. Right now millions of people are voting with their feet, and their dollars, pulling out of public education. Until (and unless) you satisfy these customers, with Permission Marketing and mass customization, you'll keep losing market share.
If Republicans want to call this radical, because we reject local control of curriculum, fine. If Democrats want to call this radical, because we reject unions and cookie-cutter curricula, fine. The marketplace needs neither political party. It's time to make education a marketplace.
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I write daily for ClickZ, and appear every Saturday at 6 Eastern on TechEdge Radio in Phoenix, Arizona. I write monthly columns for NetMarketing, Boardwatch, and Intellectual Capital. Watch for my series soon on VoxCap. The lead item here is also the Monday e-commerce column of Andover.News. You can still buy my book . Subscription instructions are at the bottom of each issue.
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Forrester Research has gotten behind the idea that large brick-and-mortar companies are about to destroy their Internet counterparts, and place a stranglehold on business worldwide as a result.
To an extent they are right. Many large "meat space" companies will find their place in the sun, either directly online or (as with Federated's Fingerhut unit) behind the scenes. But this does not mean that online management should be quaking in their shoes. The fathers of these analysts predicted Sears would crush Wal-Mart, that the TV networks would crush cable, that Merrill Lynch would destroy Charles Schwab, and (probably) that disco would replace rock-and-roll. (While they did this, we watched Nikita Khruschev pound his shoe on a table and tell the U.S. "we will bury you.")
The fact is there are many Clues that large businesses haven't yet begun to understand, which should provide smart Internet companies big advantages. First, data isn't a relationship. Second, big is no advantage in fulfillment - there's little scale advantage in going from shipping 1 million packages per day to 10 million (when there is fulfillment specialists can capture them for their clients). Third, Internet companies retain their capital advantages - the value of capital per dollar of sales is still much higher for Internet companies than their brick-and-mortar counterparts.
Big doesn't mean better, even if the media spends each Labor Day trying to convince you it does.
Here are two predictions that are easy to make but don't mean much. First, there will be a lot of "failed" Internet IPOs this month, with many pulled before they go to market. Second, a lot of Clueless financial reporters will look at that last sentence and predict the end of the Internet IPO boom.
All you need to know in the first case is some math. About three dozen Internet IPOs are scheduled for September . With this flood of paper, investors have to become more discerning, and they have learned a few things. Just look at the recent charts of former high-flyers like VerticalNet and TheGlobe.Com.
What Wall Street is demanding from Internet companies (what they demand from all speculative issues) are fast top-line growth and a business model that makes sense. You don't have to make a profit if your revenues are doubling each month - if you are profitable you may be pulling money off the table that should be going into the business. Red Hat behaves like an Internet stock because it's got fast revenue growth, enormous potential, a powerful market position, and little direct competition. When any of those things change, the stock falls out of bed. (One guarantee -- they will change.)
Does this mean the big days for Internet IPOs are over? Watch what happens when some hot b2b sites go public later this year. Assuming there's no general market crash, big winners will still win big. It's just that not any idiot with a "dot com" in their name is a big winner. In the words of Yahoo chairman Tim Koogle, that's "like, duh."
The word "Luddite" is thrown around a lot these days. The strict definition is someone who actively resists inevitable technological change, often with violence. The generally accepted definition is of a fool who doesn't understand that changing jobs and increasing productivity is the route to a better tomorrow.
As the new century prepares to dawn we're seeing lots and lots of Luddites. France threatens to become a nation of Luddites. Requiring people to do online business in a language they don't prefer is Ludd-ism at its finest. College professors are another group of Luddites . The idea that education requires a stage performance is as ludicrous as the idea that only live theater is true art.
Here's another candidate for Luddism although I'm still trying to figure out whether it's Forbes or the magazine industry that's lost its mind. It's Forbes, if that company thinks it's online to sell ads or that fake news stories are valid advertising vehicles. It's the magazine industry if it doesn't understand that commerce is the only way content can find its true online value. Most likely, it's both.
Clued-in is Cyber Yugoslavia, committed to proving the Internet's ability to keep refugees together in a diaspora. As more ethnic groups who lose their nationhood learn this lesson, we could have more cyber-conflict, but we'll also have more ways for people to maintain their identities, and the good in this case outweighs the bad. (We'll also have lots of new business opportunities.)
Clueless is former Medill School of Journalism classmate Rudy Nadilo, now head of Greenfield Online. He "wins" for willfully misinterpreting his company's own data, which indicates the percentage of Internet users who are shopping online has reached a plateau. The data indicates dissatisfaction with present online shopping alternatives - it does not mean online shopping has reached the limits of its growth.
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