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Let me take a stab at explaining Google's grand strategy.
Well, sort of. You may, instead of buying Microsoft Office, suscribe to Google's GMail and have a rudimentary office system with a gigabyte or two of storage.
But to say Google is going after Microsoft, the way we said Microsoft was going after IBM, is really to damn with faint praise.
Google isn't aiming at Microsoft, or at IBM. It's aiming at the entire computing-telecommunications complex, building out what I'll call the Google TeleComputing Environment.
The idea is to take advantage of not only the Internet's ability to disintermediate clients, but its ability to disintermediate the phone network at the same time, and to do this in an entirely open source way.
What do I mean? Here are the ingredients:
Google is flattening the world. More on what this means after the flip.
I know people are going to read this as good news.
Intel announced it is putting $340 million into expanding plants in Colorado and Massachusetts.
What could be wrong with that?
Milton Mueller and the Internet Governance Project, whom we interviewed in June, has entered the political arena with a petition against U.S. interference in ICANN. (The illustration chosen has little to do with the subject, it's the cover of an Hour of Slack CD called XXX, from Subgenius.com.)
Mueller and the IGP were moved to act by the government's unilateral decision to shut-down .XXX after it was approved by ICANN. In his note to Dave Farber's list Mueller writes, "IGP urges everyone not to let the
advocates of content regulation be the only voices
heard by the Commerce Department."
Read it carefully.
NOTE: Many of the claims made in the item below have been questioned by Russell Shaw. See the full story here.
It's ironic, but my first invitation to use Google Talk came from Pakistan. From Karachi, actually.
Specifically it was from a long-time online friend named Tariq Mustafa (known as Tee Emm), who works in the high-tech sector there.
I am really excited on this Google IM thing (and so would be tens of millions of users very soon). I think I was ahead of you just because of the time-zone difference. Anyway, here is the summary I wanted to share with you of the excitement.
Why the excitement? IM has been around for ages.
The excitement is because this isn't really IM. Or it's not just IM. It's VOIP, integrated from the start with IM.
What this does is absolutely kill international long distance in a way Skype only dreamt of. I'm actually a naive user, but I was able to download, and load, a VOIP client (with IM) in less than a minute.
So can anyone else, anywhere else.
More from Tariq after the break.
Unfortunately the Bush Administration has, on the very day the report came out, moved to undercut its key recommendation.
Here's the key bit:
Before completing the transfer of its stewardship to ICANN (or any other organization), the Department of Commerce should seek ways to protect that organization from undue commercial or governmental pressures and to provide some form of oversight of performance.
The report, in other words, supports ICANN under the U.S. government because it sees this as keeping ICANN independent of government or commercial interests. Moving toward ICANN's independence is desireable, the report says, in order to minimize the perception that the U.S. government is controlling the Internet.
So far, so good.
The recent contretemps over Google's Digital Library plan proves that the essential conflict between copyright and connectivity has not been resolved.
I was chilled by this comment from Karl Auerbach, (right, the cartoon featured on his home page) former ICANN governor and certified "good guy" of Internet governance, to Dave Farber's list:
I've become concerned with how search engine companies are making a buck off of web-based works without letting the authors share in the wealth.
I've looked at my web logs and noticed the intense degree to which search engine companies dredge through my writings - which are explicitly marked as copyrighted and published subject to a clearly articulated license.
The search engine companies take my works and from those they create derivative works.
Today's politics is cultural.
Even economic and foreign policy issues are, in the end, defined in terms of social issues. This creates identification, and coalitions among people who might not otherwise find common ground -- hedonistic Wall Street investment bankers and small town Kansas preachers, for instance.
I am coming to believe the next political divide will be technological. That is, your politics will be defined by your attitude toward technology.
On one side you will find open source technophiles. On the other you will find proprietary technophobes.
It's a process that will take time to work itself out, just as millions of Southern Democrats initially resisted the pull of Nixon. Because there are are divisions within each grand coalition we have today, on this subject.
This latter split gets most of the publicity, because more writers are in the cyber-libertarian school than anywhere else.
Initially, the proprietary, security-oriented side of this new political divide has the initiative. It has the government and, if a poll were taken, it probably has a majority on most issues.
But open source advocates have something more powerful on their side, history. You might call it the Moore's Law Dialectic.
I believe that one of the cruelest businesses of our time are the so-called "payday loan" folks.
You see these shops in every ghetto. Victims write checks that are due to be made good when they get paid. The interest rates on these things can be as high as 100%.
Banks think that, at this rate, it's good business.
Now the business has come online through a San Diego outfit called Spotya.
But the bottom line is simpler. Our identification system is broken.
It's no longer a question of this system or some other system. There is no system.
What that means, in real terms, if your own identity hangs by a thread, a very thin thread that can break anywhere, and leave you an un-person.
The Bells promised to serve us broadband if we let them run over Wireless ISPs. Done. No broadband.
So they promised us broadband if we would give them absolute control over their lines, ending any requirement for wholesaling. Done. No broadband.
Then they promised us broadband if we'd stop cities from buildig out wireless networks that might compete with them. Nearly done. Still no broadband.
Now, Qwest is pushing a plan in Congress to tax your broadband access and hand it the money, promising broadband in rural areas.
It's amazing anyone would believe such hollow promises, given the history. Color Democrat Byron Dorgan and Republican Gordon Smith (both represent areas covered by Qwest) as believers. The National Journal reports the two Senators are working together on just a Qwest-subsidy bill.
Here's a quote from the National Journal article:
Aides to Smith said the bill would make money in the Universal Service Fund available so telecommunications providers could build out broadband facilities. "It would be built into the same structure, and might end up as a stand-alone fund, within the current system next to the high-cost fund," an aide said.
Here's why this is not only theft, but stupid.
(The term Balkanize, or Balkanization, is often used in English to refer to this splitting up, which often (as in the 1990s) is accompanied by enormous violence. This picture of the Balkans as they are today is from Theodora.com.)
Think about it. How often do you use a Web site outside your own country? If you're an American, the answer is not very often. This is true for most people.
A lot more follows.
Monty Python used to have a running gag called the Gumbys. They would put on moustaches, shorts, place diapers on their heads, and talk sheer lunacy for effect. CORRECTION: There's an update to this piece below the fold which could make this reference even-more apt.
This guy is so Clueless that, in an age when any wingnut can practically become a millionaire by snapping his fingers, he can apparently get his stuff published only in the New York Sun, a right-wing daily with few readers, no business model, and a crappy Web site that won't let you inside its home page without giving them tons of personal information. So no link.
Instead, you'll have to read the whole thing:
Hear me out.
J.K. Rowling conceived her entire series on a train. It would be seven books, matching the years spent at an English boarding school such as Eton.
Book Six was released tonight. Rowling herself appeared at Edinburgh Castle at midnight, behind a puff of smoke, to read some of it to some of her fans.
The series was conceived, however, on a train, as a growing-up story. The first book would be an 11-year old's tale told from the point of view of the 11-year old. The final book would be an entrance into adulthood, a mature book.
No one could hit that kind of timetable. It's amazing to me that the 6th book went on sale just 7 years after the first one arrived.
My daughter is a big Harry Potter fan. Harry taught her to read, despite mild dyslexia. First my wife read it to her, along with the second and third books. Then she read them herself, several times. She has grown up on Harry but she will still be grown before Harry will. So will the actors who have been portraying the title character and his friends. It's very likely the actors will have to be replaced before the seventh movie can be produced.
But there's even more to it than that.
Remember that, as Arthur C. Clarke said, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
It's this that's the key to understanding what's really going on in the Harry Potter series.
Joi's point is that the Internet split has already begun, and it is based on language. Chinese and Japanese people don't care for English. People want URLs in their own language. And these URLs are unreachable by those whose keyboards only write what the Japanese call "Romaji," Roman letters.
"Why should these people be forced to learn some sort of roman transliteration in order to access the company page where they know the official Chinese characters for the names" he writes. (This is a very short excerpt. I urge you to read the whole post -- it is very wise.)
The peculiarities of language provide an excellent source of control for tyranny. Most Chinese don't leave the Chinese Internet, leaving them at the mercy of the authorities. Many Japanese choose not to leave their own language, leaving them ignorant of how others feel.
Language can also provide cover for terrorists. We can't translate all the Arabic-language e-mail or Web sites out there. We can't even find the URLs, unless we know how to look for them. So many of our problems in the War on Terror are exacerbated by a shortage of translators, or mis-translations. This problem continues to get worse.
There's more, of course.
Americans pay more for less broadband service than citizens of any other industrial country, and our take-up rate for fast Internet service is approaching Third World levels.
The reason? Lack of competition. Phone and cable networks, created under government control, have been made the private monopolies of corporate interests whose lobbyists dominate all capitals against the public interest.
Does new FCC chairman Kevin Martin see any of this? No. Just the opposite, in fact.
The Supreme Court affirmed the FCC's decision to refrain from regulating cable companies' provision of broadband services. This was an important victory for broadband providers and consumers. Cable companies will continue to have incentives to invest in broadband networks without fear of having to provide their rivals access at unfair discounts. The decision also paves the way for the FCC to place telephone companies on equal footing with cable providers. We can now move forward and remove the legacy regulation that reduces telephone companies' incentives to provide broadband.
This is Orwell's FCC. Monopoly is called competition. Martin claims there is intense competition from Wireless ISPs and satellite providers, when in fact those companies are being driven out of the market. The vast majority of consumers and businesses today have just two choices for broadband -- their local phone monopoly and local cable monopoly, who together enjoy a duopoly and monopoly profits that lets them write-down their 30-year property in a world best served by three-year write-offs.
There's more spin after the break.
I spent last week in Texas, dependent on free WiFi hotspots, and I learned a powerful lesson.
There is no such thing as free WiFi.
When "free" WiFi is provided by a bar, coffee shop or restaurant, there is a quid pro quo. You're going to eat. You're going to drink. And when you're no longer eating and/or drinking (and ordering) you're going to get nasty looks until you leave.
There is a cost to a shop's WiFi that goes beyond the cost of the set-up. That is the cost of the real estate, the cost of the table, and the cost to a shop's ambience when a bunch of hosers come in and spend all day staring at laptops.
Now here's an even-more controversial point.
The story is about how some coffee houses are turning off the WiFi because they don't like the fact that their shops become offices. People shut up around WiFi. They bring in their PCs, turn on, and tune out the world around them. They may buy a coffee (increasingly they don't) but that's all you're going to get out of them.
Coffee shops and restaurants have beren the leaders in the WiFi "hotspot" movement based on the assumption they will be good for business, that people who WiFi also eat and drink.
Turns out we don't. Not that much, anyway. And we don't leave the table, either.
All of which leaves these shops without a valid business model. Would those using free WiFi object too much if they grabbed a piece of your browser's real estate and forced ads on you while you worked? How about if they put in a WiFi tip jar? I'm open to suggestions here.
For my ZDNet blog this morning I interviewed Milton Mueller of the Internet Governance Project asking how the Internet should be governed.
The real problem is that most users, especially most Americans, don't believe it should be governed at all.
But it is governed.
The Internet is governed by the U.S. government, through ICANN, so anything the U.S. wants goes, and everyone else can go scratch. If the U.S. wants to violate the privacy of foreigners it does so. If it wants servers shut down -- even in other countries -- they're shut down. And all the "taxes" earned from site registration goes to those favored by the U.S. security apparatus.
In the 1990s there was a bit of whispering about this. But now those whispers have become a roar, because this government's obsessions with its own security (at the expense of everyone else's) and "intellectual property" (a phrase that does not appear in its Constitution) are becoming too much to bear.
That's why the ITU and the UN are sniffing around the issues involved in taking control of the root DNS away from ICANN. The coup would occur by these groups simply rolling their own, turning them on, and having member states point to them, instead of those offered by ICANN.
At first you wouldn't notice. But very shortly, as ITU and U.S. policies began to diverge there would be two Internets. Americans wouldn't be able to reach ITU pointers not recognized by ICANN roots, and vice versa for everyone else.
In a way it's already happening.
As the graph shows, the phenomenon is familiar to anyone who blogs, and the challenge is to find a way to profit from it.
Stuff on the left side of the curve has business models. Stuff in the middle is struggling for a business model. Stuff on the right has no business model.
As you can see by looking at the endorsements on the left side of Anderson's blog, the Digirati are reacting like Anderson just discovered fire. And the Long Tail is no less obvious.
What's non-trivial is finding a way to profit from these atomized markets.
Google does it. TiVo does it (sometimes). But must those who profit from the "market of one" all be scaled? What about the creators? And what are the consequences of that?
What we've seen in the market, since the rise of the Internet, is an increasingly-shorter tail. Middle market books don't sell. Independent movies are having more trouble getting produced, not less. Musicians who used to live decent lives on record company contracts find today they can't get a sniff.
You may remember him. Long-haired weirdo. Crazy hair. Counter-cultural kind of guy.
Some 30 years ago he and another friend named Steve hung around with the losers at something called the Homebrew Computer Club.
They had this neat idea for a new kind of box, using a TV, tape recorder, and typewriter as interfaces for a self-contained computer. One of them (I think it was the other Steve) shopped the idea to Hewlett-Packard.
Which rejected it. Turned them down flat. Questioned whether it had "serious thought behind it."
Well, you do have to listen to your elders, after all. I'm sure that discouraged Steve. Probably discouraged everyone else around him. Their thing never saw the light of day, as I recall.
Whatever happened to that kid, anyway?
On the creative side, blogs are just as likely to care about journalism, public service, and lies as any other media.
On the business side, however, nearly all bloggers do things backwards.
That is, we look at the content from the writer's point of view. Journalism looks at all content from the reader's point of view.
This is no small point. You can see it clearly in examining the "blog journalism" companies which have found success -- Weblogsinc, Gawker Media, and Paid Content. Jason Calacanis, Nick Denton and Rafat Ali all defined the readers they wanted, created a business model, then hired writers to fulfill the mission.
Back in the 1990s a lot of Americans wasted a lot of bandwidth worrying about the Digital Divide.
Americans were wealthy. We could afford PCs and fast networks. Those poor black and brown people were being left behind by the future. There were even proposals that Americans tax themselves so that poor people could get broadband faster.
Now, a decade later, the digital divide is back.
And this time Americans are on the other side of it.
Our broadband networks now stand 13th in the world, behind those of our trade rivals. Chinese, Japanese and Koreans are being offered speeds and prices we can only dream of. Asian cellular networks are years ahead of those here, and mobile broadband is common. In the most remote parts of Africa, cellphones are being turned into makeshift phone kiosks, or simply rented on a per-call basis, so folks can stay in touch with markets and the growing world economy.
Meanwhile, a decade of growing monopolism in this country means broadband take-up is now below the rates elsewhere. Cellular networks are two years behind those in Asia. You pay more to get less bandwidth than people in most of the world, and the situation is getting worse.
That's because, on most issues, there is no majority view. Most people don't care.
Learning an issue, and becoming committed to it, teaches you the source code of politics.
If your organization is tightly-knit, if your issues are driven by corporate interests, then your politics is closed source. On issues that mainly interest businesses this is determinative. Lobbyists and financial contributions fight and often come to settlements that aren't half bad. Traditionally most issues before regulators, from the EPA and FTC to the FDA and FCC, have been closed-source arguments.
If your organization is loosely knit, and if your issues are driven by personal feeling, then your politics is open source. Open source politics defines social issues, and the numbers involved in turn drive American politics as a whole. Politicians can win with only committed minorities on their side, if those minorities stand united.
What happens when closed source and open source politics collide? It depends on how much real interest those on the open source end can manage.
This collision is now apparent in telecommunications.
The hole is the whole U.S.
Intel plans on mass producing WiMax chips and going into rapid deployment, offering end-user speeds far in excess of what U.S. phone outfits provide with DSL.
The problem is that's the speed limit for most backhauls. Go to most WiFi hotspots, or most home networks, and DSL is the backhaul platform. We're talking 1.5 Mbps, max.
But is this just another Marty Rimm study?
Rimm, you may or may not remember, wrote a paper at Georgetown Law in 1995 claiming 85% of Web traffic was dirty pictures. This was later disproved, but the damage was done and Congress passed the ill-fated Communications Decency Act.
Mike Godwin, the former EFF counsel who fought the Rimm study and is now senior counsel at Public Knowledge, remains skeptical, noting that the Cachelogic study hasn't gone through peer review. He also notes that, since Cachelogic sells systems to control P2P traffic, it has a natural bias.
The Cachelogic claims may have logic behind them, however. Many ISPs do report that over half their traffic is on ports commonly used by P2P applications. Brett Glass of Lariat.Net, near the University of Wyoming, says the claim seems accurate, noting that unless ISPs cut-back capacity to those ports (a process called P2P Mitigation), the applications quickly discover the fat pipe and divert everyone's traffic to it, filling it at the cost of thousands per month.
And that is at the heart of the problem.
Lenin named his small movement the Bolsheviks, a word meaning majority. He called his majority opponents Mensheviks, a word meaning minority.
The point is that if one side is large and undisciplined while the other side is smaller but tightly disciplined, the smaller group can win a political struggle.
That seems to be the case with municipal wifi. It's an undeniable good everyone wants. It's relatively cheap to install and maintain. It should be a no-brainer.
But it's losing to telephone monopolies because of lax discipline.
Glenn Fleischman and I disagree so seldom, we both get confused when it happens.
Long story short I thought it would help if I described what might be a better plan for citywide WiFi. Apologies to those of you who have read this before.
The short answer is WiMax. The long version follows the break.
I am a big supporter of free WiFi. But Philadelphia's project will go down in history as a failure.
Those are the obvious problems. But wait, there's more:
The great struggle of our time, between "major media journalism" and "blogging" involves who sets the agenda.
Exhibit A. I've been writing about the economic threat of India and China for years now. I've called the War on Terror a mere distraction from the real game. I know other bloggers have done the same.
But suddenly, wonder of wonders, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times goes to Bangalore, discovers we're right and now it's on everyone's radar.
I've written before here of the methods by which the major media is trying to co-opt the blogosphere and eliminate the threat. They're taking on some people, attacking others, and in this case, just taking others' ideas and claiming them for their own.
The real Hardball isn't the game show on MSNBC, where politicians lie and yap at one another.
It's something far more serious, played every day, by huge corporations that masquerade as guardians of the public interest, but are in fact as corrupt as the rest of us. (That's LA Times founder Harrison Gray Otis on the right. More about Harry Otis here, near the bottom of the page. I direct David Shaw's attention to the quote from Theodore Roosevelt.)
The prerogatives of these corporations and their hirelings, who call themselves journalists (then deny this status to you and me) is under threat on this medium as never before. They're scared, and they're playing Hardball.
Their right, earned by corporate might, to define what is and what isn't news, what is and what isn't fair comment, is under threat, right here, right now.
And they don't like it one bit.
The game is being played mainly on three search engines. On MSN note how these corporations are given, not dominance, but exclusivity. The same is true on Yahoo. Note the list of "resources" at the top-right of the Yahoo page. Note too the prominence given one outfit's stories, the newspaper co-op called AP.
In both cases what you see on your screen is the result of business negotiation. News value is determined by people, meeting in rooms, and (perhaps) money changes hands (we're not told).
Is this fair? It may well be. It's certainly business as usual. And -- here is the key point -- the process is completely opaque.
On the other hand, we have Google News. What you see here looks similar but it is, in fact, quite different. While the stories of the giants do get prominent play, so do other organizations, and other types of news coverage.
At 11:15 AM for instance I checked Google's "coverage" of Laura Bush's trip to Afghanistan, sorted by relevance. Position four was held by a right-wing group, the Conservative Voice. Position seven was held by a left-wing site, Counter Currents, posting a blog item from Counterpunch.
The results on all stories change moment-to-moment, and only a small part of what we call the blogosphere is represented, but the fact is that Google News is offering a far wider set of sources than its rivals. These include "official" outlets like Voice of America and Pravda. They include newspaper sites requiring registration. They also include many sites from outside the U.S.
In some cases, they even include blogs. Yes, even this one.
But that's not the full extent of Google's challenge to the news industry.
Perhaps I should be skeptical, given that this is a company-funded study with a result favorable to the company that funded it.
But the evidence is just too compelling. The cure for the Digital Divide is the mobile phone, and the results are so obvious no big subsidies or taxes are needed to make the change happen.
Here are some facts that really jumped out at me:
Thats what Republicans called it, when they were campaigning for power a few years ago.
The Gore Tax was their name for the E-Rate program. Its aim was to help poor schools cross the digital divide by subsidizing their access costs.
It has been a bipartisan disaster. In practice its nothing more than a subsidy for the Bells, who had the law written in such a way so that they got the money automatically unless they refused it for some reason.
This means, in practice, that the subsidized rate schools pay may in fact be higher than the alternative market rate. Bells are charging hundreds of dollars per month for T-1 customers who could easily be supplied by WISP DSL service at a fraction of the cost.
It gets worse. The E-Rate was also used for hardware, so schools stuck themselves with obsolete PC technology to boot. Youve got obsolete PCs held by captive customers who cant upgrade.
Now Declan McCullagh reports that Rep. Joe Barton wants to put the E-Rate out of its misery and Ive got to applaud it.
Technology moves in waves. What's passe in one place may be very cool in another. This is how you can cross the digital divide.
Here's an example. At the same time NTT DoCoMo is closing down its Personal Handyphone System, moving customers to more advanced forms of mobile telephony, it's growing like topsy in China, and Atheros is rolling out a new PHS chip.
How does this work?
The war against 802.11 hotspots, which I predicted last week, has already begun.
I don't expect free access to survive it.
The fact is that a hotspot without registration allows hackers to insert viruses undetected, allows criminals to hack into databases undetected, and allows spammers to spam undetected.
The New York Times had a feature this weekend , picked up by the Financial Express, alleging half the crooks caught in a recent sweep dubbed Operation Firewall were using public hotspots.
A recent piece from the Medill News Service (my j-school alma mater), picked up by PC Advisor, suggested that people should never conduct personal business through a hotspot, for fear it is actually an "evil twin" set up by a hacker to grab passwords from the unwary. An IBM spokesman also detailed this scam for Newsfactor.
Here are the facts:
African leaders are pushing a "Tech Tax" that would go into a UN-sponsored fund and build the technology infrastructure of developing countries.
NOTE: Please visit the page where I got this illustration, by Los Cybrids. The words here express my overall view of the matter better than this blog item can.
On the surface, a "tech tax" sounds like a very good thing. It has a laudable goal. I'm very much in favor of telecommunications development everywhere. It brings markets together. It raises people up, brings them education, gets them into the mainstream. It's great.
But in practice, this proposal sucks. It sucks big time. Here's why.
Where's the money going?