Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Doomed To Repeat The Future

The company that i work for, which we'll call Big Giant Internet Company, has decided that it also wants to be Big Giant Media Company. It will accomplish this with "content". Content, you see, is extremely important because without content people would be forced to create their very own stuff to push around the internet. Content, on the other hand, can be owned; and if it's owned then you either have to pay for it, or you have to watch my ads before i let you experience my content. Content is also crucially important because it gives validity and power to all of the bullshit executives who get to make the decisions about which content is good.

To their credit the executives at Big Giant Internet Company understand that the internet experience is different than the television experience or the movie experience. They hope to give people the internet experience, whatever that might be. The internet experience is likely less passive, more interactive, but mostly it is more personalized. Personalized. You will be hearing this word more than you can stand.

This should excite me because ostensibly personalization is what i now do for Big Giant Internet Company. But i believe that attempting to personalize the internet experience by trying to become an uber-aggregator of content is missing the point. Like falling down and missing the ground but not, with apologies to Douglas Adams, thereby flying.

There are numerous trends on the internet that i believe bolster my argument. One is the blogging phenomenon itself. Although there's a lot of crap out there, there's also a lot of good stuff written by people who don't have to worry about edits to save column space or publishers who don't want to offend advertisers. Another is the increasing amount of existing material that's been digitized and indexed by the likes of Google. Another is the huge amount of on-line comics, videos, music and art that is produced by completely independent creators; and associated sites that glean through it and point you at the most interesting. Another is the almost universal acceptance of RSS-style syndication of content. Another is the increased use of shared bookmark managers like and associated tags.

All of this leads me to the conclusion that content is not the only thing that matters. Content, as a friend of mine put it, is soulless. Art, science, opinion, literature is only "content" to marketing droids who want to drape it with advertisements. I've got no problem with people making money by selling art, science, opinion, or literature on the web, because the web is also a marketplace. But it's not the existence of said content or the opportunity to buy it that provides the personalized internet experience. The internet experience is fundamentally an act of creation, even if it's simply the creation of your view into the world. That's what personalization should be. If you look at a sites like Findory or or Technorati, it becomes apparent that you don't need to be Big Giant Media Company in order to provide that experience.

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