Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Doc Searls -- Free your Mind

Reading Doc Searls makes me feel like Butterfly McQueen's character in Gone With the Wind. "Law', Miss Scarlet, I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies" My knowledge of the internets is about as limited as that Senator who splained about tubes and stuff. But this column in Linux Journal excites my imagination as much as watching an extreme sport on YouTube. Just because you can't do it yourself doesn't mean you can't project yourself into the action and pretend. I get the same feeling whenever I hear a good recording of Maple Leaf Rag. Close my eyes and pretend for a moment that is me on the keyboard...

...The Matrix was a metaphor for marketing. For me this was personal.

When I began writing for Linux Journal in 1996 (as a contributing editor), I was fairly new to Linux and to the free software and open-source concepts that Linux embodies. But I had been working in marketing-mostly advertising and PR-for two decades. For a stretch of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Hodskins Simone & Searls was one of the top high-tech advertising agencies in Silicon Valley. When I left the agency, I went on to become a successful marketing consultant. So I knew how the sausage was made.

Oddly, marketing (including advertising and PR) is not as powerful as you might think. Given the extraordinary inefficiencies involved, the actual influence exerted by marketing (and by advertising and PR in particular), is remarkably small. Even the accountabilities introduced with pay-per-click advertising still involve ratios of "impressions" to clicks that run in the lottery range.

Far more powerful is a belief, held by nearly everybody in the developed world, that the best markets are captive ones. In the Free Software and Open Source movements we call captive markets "walled gardens" or "silos". But to most producers in the developed world, these are ideal. And to most consumers, they are business as usual.


The carriers claim to be fighting government regulation, when in fact they have known life only inside a regulatory habitat they built themselves and continue to control through an exceptionally powerful lobbying apparatus. Together with the lawmakers and regulators they control, the carriers have created what Bob Frankston (a father of both the spreadsheet and home networking) calls the Regulatorium.

The Regulatorium provides the building codes for telecom and cablecom silos. Telecom (including cablecom) "reform" is entirely about changing the building codes to make the silos more competitive with each other-not to free the captives of those silos or to blow the silos up altogether.

To the Regulatorium, a "free market" for Internet service means you get to choose between a cable and a telephone provider. That's it. These carriers can no more appreciate a truly free market than an agent in The Matrix can imagine a world not run by machines.

Okay, then. If you don't get pumped letting your inner engineer go crazy, then skip the link and move on. But trust me when I tell you, Doc Searls has vision. Whenever feel like life is getting drab, I can always count on him to write something to make me feel better. Just knowing the future of technology is brighter than the present is enough.

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