MICHAEL EISNER 2.0

So goofy Michael Eisner is getting into the Web 2.0 user-generated video business.....

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His $12.5 million backing of Veoh clarifies where we are in terms of the Web 2.0 economic cycle:

The Web 1.0 hype is definitely back. When large broadcast companies and branded media notables invest $25 million in a highly trafficked content site dependent on advertising revenue, then digital tulip fever is on the rise. $25 million an awful lot of money. Remember that this is what Google raised from Sequoia and Kleiner-Perkins in their 7 June 7, 1999 B round which bridged them till profitability in 2001. My prediction is that Veoh will waste it all on advertising (ie: recyle it to Google and Yahoo), competing with other video user-generated businesses. And in the end, Veoh will acquire YouTube or vice-versa and then be acquired by Yahoo or Google at a knock-down price.

How is Veoh different from YouTube and the various other me-too video technology start-ups now littering Silicon Valley? All are premised on the idea that video-amateurs like posting their work on the Internet. Some have more users than others, but there appears to be no significant difference between them.

Eisner has been playing with his own long tail. He says that "Veoh's technology uses the Internet to "expand broadcast capacity to the point that every single user, whether an individual or a media company, can create their own 'channel' and every 'channel' can be supported by its own business model." But this is, of course, the spin of the consummate sales guy. There are only two business models for content: a) advertising and b) user payment. So either the videographers of Veoh need to charge their views or they need significant traffic to build advertising revenue. Thus, either Eisner has been seduced by the meaningless sales spin of a personalized business model per channel or he is seducing us with this long tale.

Hey Michael, want to invest in my new blog portal?

JURGEN HABERMAS ON WEB 2.0

Habermas1The Web 2.0 debate is seeping out of Silicon Valley into the real world. On March 9, Jürgen Habermas, perhaps Europe’s most influential social thinker, was awarded the Bruno Kreisky Prize for the advancement of human rights. In his acceptance speech, he spoke about the Web 2.0 threat to intellectual life in the West:

"Use of the Internet has both broadened and fragmented the contexts of communication. This is why the Internet can have a subversive effect on intellectual life in authoritarian regimes. But at the same time, the less formal, horizontal cross-linking of communication channels weakens the achievements of traditional media. This focuses the attention of an anonymous and dispersed public on select topics and information, allowing citizens to concentrate on the same critically filtered issues and journalistic pieces at any given time. The price we pay for the growth in egalitarianism offered by the Internet is the decentralised access to unedited stories. In this medium, contributions by intellectuals lose their power to create a focus."

Habermas is right. The Internet does indeed have a subversive impact on political life in authoritarian regimes. Thus the significance and value of blogs and bloggers in Iraq, Iran, China, North Korea and any other regime where the state, for ideological reasons, still attempts to monopolize media. This is the Orwell model of rebellion to Big Brother. It’s the old 20th century dystopia. Nightmare 1.0, to use the binary language of Silicon Valley.

But in the West, where there is no Orwellian state seeking to monopolize information or ideology, Habermas is correct to say that the growth of citizen media actually undermines intellectual life. To repeat Habermas’ warning:

The price we pay for the growth in egalitarianism offered by the Internet is the decentralised access to unedited stories. In this medium, contributions by intellectuals lose their power to create a focus.

In a word: anarchy. As Habermas says, the Web 2.0 revolution does away with the traditional filter of editors. So all we have left is an electronic media that spews out unedited opinion. The naive online reader no longer has a professional guide to help them distinguish between the writing of Jurgen Habermas and the ranting of some poor uneducated soul from the depths of the blogosphere. This is our 21st dystopia: nightmare 2.0 -- the increasingly real threat of a flattened, radically democratized media.

The Web 2.0 camp, from Silicon Valley’s techno-utopians to the leveller libertarians of the blogosphere, have no respect or value for intellectuals, whether they be on the political left or the right. In their minds, the very idea of an “intellectual” smacks of elitism and injustice. So the great achievement of the Web 2.0 is the undermining of the idea of a specialist, an expert, an intellectual. For more on the destructive consequences of this idealism, see my Weekly Standard review of Glenn Reynolds’ An Army of Davids.

Stay tuned for more on Jurgen Habermas’ arguments about Web 2.0. Next step is to invite him onto the afterTV show to discuss his views in more detail.

A NATION OF PARIS HILTONS

Images_5My friend, Giselle Bisson, the Bay Area writer and marketing maven, just sent me a great question:

“Would love to see you reflect on the impact of communities like My Space and how they are wreaking havoc on parents right now who are struggling with issues of trying to control what their kids are blogging, or even trying to "spy" on and monitor their kid's internet activity to protect them. Recently in Santa Cruz a man was arrested for molesting a minor who he seduced via My Space.”

Giselle’s concern is that of millions of parents – and that includes myself – with young kids who love to browse on the Internet. To answer her, let me quote Nick Carr’s response to my Weekly Standard piece. He says:

“As I've thought about the watery philosophy and the powerful technology that dovetail so neatly in Web 2.0, I've become fearful that we're building a machine that will, to great and general applause, destroy culture.”

Nick, this destruction of culture is already taking place. I’ve just finished Pornified: how Pornography is Changing our Lives, our Relationships and our Families, Pamela Paul’s horrifying exposure of pornography’s new ubiquity. The book should be required reading of all parents. Paul shows that online pornography has become so accessible and mainstream that hardcore porn stars are now regarded as cool and consuming pornography considered perfectly normal by many college and even high school kids.

Like it or not, our young men and women are coming of age in a pornified world in which digital images of hardcore acts of unimaginable vulgarity are a click away. These images are legal. And they are often free.

There is, of course, no more “watery” a philosophy than liberal permissiveness about pornography. And dovetailing this permissiveness with the “powerful” technology of the Internet has created a machine that, to quote Nick Carr, is indeed destroying our culture. Carr also concurs with me on digital narcissism:

“I sense it too. Behind every LCD a mirror. Beware of those who come with money and influence and pretty-sounding abstractions and who are utterly unaware that what they so joyfully seek to impose on the world is their own reckless banality.”

Behind every LCD a mirror. Unfortunately, that’s not just a metaphor. Today, our powerful technology, our moral relativism and our narcissism have resulted in a digital culture of pornographic self-exposure. Take highly trafficked sites like voyeurweb, projectvoyeur and privatevoyeur, which provide pornographic self portaits of thousands of ordinary woman (aka: amateur sex stars), “self-published” by our mothers, girlfriends, daughters and wives.

These pornography sites represent the Web 2.0 self-publishing platform ideal. They are democratic, rich in user-generated content, easy-to-use and free-to-the-public. No doubt Voyeurweb, Projectvoyeur and Privatevoyeur have been built using all the latest open source tools. They are sparkling paragons of the Web 2.0 revolution. And they are destroying our culture.

In terms of Giselle Bisson’s question about My Space, I am less concerned with illegal than with legal activities. I think the pornification of our digital culture has proceeded with such speed that it is inevitable that teenagers using social networking portals like My Space will themselves be seduced by the sexual narcissism of our digital culture. After all, if your mother or grandmother is stripping off on Voyeurweb, then wouldn’t it be quite natural for a teenage girl to at least put a sexually suggestive home page together on My Space?

Where does all this stop? If such reckless banality becomes the norm, then what becomes the next cherished belief to be smashed? Soon there won’t be anything left to destroy. Our culture will have been completely pornified. We will have become a nation of Paris Hiltons.

Close your eyes. Behind each LCD a mirror. now open them again and look into that LCD. What you see is our society. And it isn't a pretty sight.

Before you accuse me of being a digital Bin Laden, read Pornified and check out sites like Voyeurweb. Then tell me I’m exaggerating the threat that pornography represents to our culture. Then tell me too that we don’t need much more morally fundamentalist legislation against online pornography.

THOUGHTS ABOUT JEFF AND SYLVIA

I’ve had a ton of provocative, sometimes even angry responses to my Weekly Standard/CBS News piece about the Web 2.0 movement. One of the more civil came from my friend Jeff Ubois, one of the organizers of Berkeley’s monthly Cybersalon, an authority on digital video and a blogger himself. Jeff wrote:

Good to stir things up, and good to call Web 2.0 on the dangers of utopianism, and on narcissism. I'd add that the lack of historical  sense is disturbing. But some of the other generalizations are more  questionable, e.g:

"The purpose of our media and culture industries--beyond the  obvious need to make money and entertain people--is to discover, nurture, and reward elite talent. Our traditional mainstream media  has done this with great success over the last century."

There's the rub; talented people sink without a trace, but Britney is  all over.  Arguments for elitism are ok with me, provided there is something like a meritocratic system. Turn on the tv: are you  seriously going to argue that's a meritocracy?

yes, Jeff, that's a fair point. I'm concerned, however, that there is a lot more pornographic and offensive content on the internet than Britney and that we might, in the not-too-distant future, look back at the traditional media age (and even Britney) with great nostalgia.

I'm not a passionate supporter of tv culture, but the traditional network news shows are a lot more restrained and responsible than CNN or Fox. And the blogosphere is even more irresponsible with blatantly incorrect or biased information than either CNN or Fox.

Meanwhile, my friend Sylvia Paull, the other brains behind Cybersalon, and a social and business networker par excellence, sent me the briefest of notes:

nice piece, Andrew, although I disagree with almost everything you say.

Thanks, Sylvia. I understand that I’m breaking ranks with many of my old friends and colleagues in Silicon Valley who still are believers in the long-term benefits of digital technology. I understood, too, that many technologists in the Bay Area will see me as a traitor to the cause – regarding me with the same sense of bitter betrayal that was directed toward my friend Paulina Borsook when she wrote Cyberselfish, one of the most prescient and heartfelt critiques of the Web 1.0 euphoria.

Orwell is my inspiration here. He went to Catalonia in 1936 as a political idealist and returned as a battle weary critic of communism.  There is a straight road from Orwell's experiences in Catalonia to his Animal Farm and Ninety Eight-Four. I arrived in Silicon Valley in 1995 as a believer. After eleven years, however, I’ve had enough of both the theory and practice of technology utopianism. The great seduction is no longer seducing me. Not only is the Web 2.0 movement intellectually fraudulent, but it is also leading us into a culturally impoverished and impoverishing world. I therefore have a duty to speak out against it.

FEAR AND LOATHING OUTSIDE SILICON VALLEY

Images_4 Maybe The Great Seduction is not very seductive.

Here, in Silicon Valley, it is taken for granted that technology is changing the world for the better. But the more I talk with non-tech friends the more I realize that contemporary information technology is actually viewed with fear and loathing. Yes, that's what I said: fear and loathing outside Silicon Valley. For many people, the Internet, personal computers and the other weapons of virtual reality only add complexity and confusion to their lives. For many people outside Silicon Valley, always-on digital technology is the problem at the heart of our culture rather than the solution.

Always-on equals always-bothered.

Always-on equals never-thinking.

This suspicion of technology’s impact upon culture was poignantly summarized in an email I received this morning from a well-known San Francisco creative artist. Through a mutual friend, I had invited this artist (who asked to remain anonymous since he/she doesn’t want to waste time in worthless email exchanges with irate strangers) to appear on my podcast show AfterTV.

This is what I got back from my anonymous artist:

L forwarded your information to me. I checked out your site, but I don't know if I'd be an appropriate guest. As far as the digital revolution goes, although I'm reasonably computer literate, and I do think computers have some good uses, I have strong Luddite tendencies. I intend to write my next book by hand. I think digital music is tiresome. Eventually people are going to return to live music, learn how to master an instrument, drop all the gizmos. Live music is where the vitamins and other musical nutrients are. Nowhere else. And I can't read a book on a computer. I don't know anybody who can. Short pieces yes, whole books no. People are reading books less and less, true, but I think the resulting "illiteracy" is showing up in disastrous ways. Nobody can follow a long thought. People have short attention spans cause all they want is to be entertained. I don't think technology is magical. It's mundane. Magic is where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. With technology the whole is exactly equal to the sum of the parts--nothing more. I think of technology as being, by and large, the feverish attempt of a culture to lose itself because it is SO bored. This is not meant to be hostile. I just thought you should know where I stand.

I just thought you should know where I stand. Wow! As the German theologian Martin Luther told the Edict of Worms in April 1521: "Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God."

Yes, the artist has nailed it, Martin Luther style, with this anonymous manifesto. It’s a much more direct critique of technology than my vertiginous 11 Unfashionable ThoughtsImages_1. It should be nailed on the cubicle wall of every Silicon Valley software engineer who has been seduced by Google-like nonsense about technology “doing no evil.”

Perhaps the San Francisco artist should drive down 101 to Mountain View and nail it, Martin Luther style, on the front door of the Google office. Martin Luther 2.0. The only problem is that, here in Silicon Valley, where The Law of Forgetting is the only game in town, nobody can remember Martin Luther 1.0. No, grand historical gesture here is pointless. Better to slap the manifesto on the blogosphere. Anonymously. Just as Martin Luther would probably do, if he happened to reappear now, almost five hundred years after the Edict of Worms, in our brave new Web 2.0 world.