Welcome to the bloggy home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Percolate and general internet tinkerer. This site is about media, culture, technology, and randomness. It's been around since 2004 (I'm pretty sure). Feel free to get in touch. Get in touch.

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Unemployed Friday Thoughts

In my reading today I ran across a few distinct, but interesting quotes that I had to post. The first is from Joe Gillespie at Web Page Design for Designers. In his December Editorial titled “Stop the Web, I Want to Get Off,” Gillespie writes:

I remember seeing an ‘art’ film once where someone painted a piano using time-lapse cinematography and a boogie-woogie soundtrack. The paintbrush never appeared in shot but the paint gradually covered the piano, stroke by stroke, in all its psychedelic glory. At the fresh edge, the paint was wet, bright and glossy. Further back in time, and space, it gradated to dull, matte and dry. As the fresh edge moved forward, the dried paint inevitably followed behind at a more or less constant distance. It was quite mesmerizing to watch.

I have always seen the Web as being like that paint. The fresh edge is wet and fluid, and maybe a little unstable as it can still run and drip. Trailing way behind that fresh edge is the dried paint. Solid. Static. It still has a job to do but it’s no longer alive.

I have always relished that fresh edge – almost as much as my love for the overwhelming potential of an empty page! But, to keep a wet edge, you have to be constantly moving.

Next up is a quote from Gary Petersen’s About Product Weblogs: How to Use Weblogs for Product Support. Petersen works for Maytag and writes on the Skybox by Maytag Weblog. In an entry titled “Bad Information,” Petersen writes:

Every product has some negative aspects about it. And I mean every product. The moment you start ignoring them, you start down the path of deceiving your customers. Marketing is not about putting a set of blinders on your customers so they want to buy your product because they wrongly believe it is flawless. It is about educating your customers so they want to buy your product because they understand what it can do for them. Coupled with that is the understanding the the negative aspects of a product will be manageable for them.

The third quote is from a 2001 Forbes article titled “Internet II: Rebooting America” by Michael S. Malone [via Functioning Form entry titled “Digital Technology Cycles & the Web”]:

The Internet isn’t dead–it’s molting. And what will come out of the chrysalis will be gigantic. Once again, let history be our guide. Every important digital technology over the past 50 years has seen an initial explosion of entrepreneurial activity, followed by a 90%-plus shakeout of the competitors (although only a small dip in revenues). But what is generally forgotten is that after the shakeout, the few remaining survivors enjoy exponential growth. Within a couple of years they are joined by a new generation of savvier young competitors. Meanwhile, over the subsequent two decades, the industry itself typically grows 100 times bigger.

Chips crashed in 1974. Semiconductors are now a $200 billion industry. Processors went down in 1984. They are now a $60 billion industry. Enterprise software had its Waterloo (at least for market leader Oracle) in 1990. It’s now a $44 billion industry.

If history holds true, the Net, following this current shakeout, will be a $20 trillion industry (nearly twice the current Gross Domestic Product) by the year 2020. But even if it is only one-tenth that size, it will still constitute an economic revolution.

Two thousand four is the year it all comes together.

The last quote comes on the heels of Microsoft’s introduction of blogging services from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in a Detroit Free Press article titled “Ballmer Talks Up Links to the Net”:

“Blogging is huge,” he said. “It brings together the three biggest Internet trends: communicating, sharing and socializing. It started with e-mail and instant messaging and music sharing, and it’s getting bigger each day.”

I do a fair amount of reading online every day. I have over 200 feeds coming into my aggregator and even on the very busiest days I check 10 or 15 of my favorite feeds. Since I’ve been unemployed, I’ve had a bit more time for this (and other activities, including listening to a lot of Mike and the Mad Dog). Along with thinking about sports issues (which today is heavily tilted towards the steroid situation in San Francisco and the Urban Meyer situation in South Bend), I’ve been thinking about the future of my employment. I’ve been asked a number of times on interviews what I want to do (in the larger sense of the question) and the truth is that I’m not exactly sure, except I know it has to have an online aspect. I spent the last five months writing for a magazine and spent the four years before that studying media, culture and postmodernism at NYU. It was at NYU (and Gallatin specifically) that I developed a serious interest in digital culture and began imagining the effects it could have on our world. Since then the internet has become my passion. I have bought into its webbed design and interconnectedness as the answer to the traditional top-down, hierarchical world. I believe in its constant evolution as an answer to so many institutions, from government to education, that remain sickeningly stagnant. I’m proud to be publishing my thoughts in a database that is returning the written word to the people. I enjoy being a member of the internet community personally and hope to be part of it professionally.

The net has become such an amazing entity (and I believe it’s got a lot of growth left in it). Look at what Ballmer said, ignoring the fact that he was promoting a new Microsoft venture. Blogs combine “communicating, sharing and socializingâ€? to help the internet realize some of what people saw in 2001. Blogs have helped to create a constant “wet edgeâ€? on the net, a constantly moving wave of information that leaves a wake of archived information behind it. People often forget to talk about the huge wealth blogs leave for the world, instead focusing on their ability to stay on top of relevant information. Blogs are storing away vast amounts of information for the likes of Google to make completely searchable for the world. By combining the wet edge of constant movement with the static archive, blogs are helping to show people just what the internet can be. Of course, blogs are not the end all and be all; rather they are just one piece of a larger puzzle. What they have become, though, is the most visible piece and one that is helping individuals and business to understand that this is not your grandma’s internet (you get my point).

What bugs me, though, is that too often people focus on the medium. When they do that, they miss the fact that McLuhan was right, the medium is the message. In his 1964 book Understanding Media, he explains just what he means by this oft-used (incorrectly) statement. “This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium — that is, of any extension of ourselves — result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.” McLuhan used to say that he didn’t watch television, instead he watched people watching television. That’s where you learn the lessons. It’s about seeing how a medium changes the way the user interact with their world. The blog phenomena is not about four-plus million blogs, it’s about what these blogs are teaching people about conversing with one another and about returning the power of the written word to the world. One thing blogs do, for example, is teach people that traditional institutions are not the only source of information. Down the road, when these ideas really sink in amongst the mainstream population, I believe there is hope for these regular citizens to digest what they’ve learned and take back these institutions that once belonged to them (business, politics and education are only a few that are not safe from this group of interconnected individuals). This is what happened with the Dean campaign and its fundraising magic and it’s what we’re reading when Gary Petersen of Maytag says, “marketing is not about putting a set of blinders on your customers so they want to buy your product because they wrongly believe it is flawless. It is about educating your customers so they want to buy your product because they understand what it can do for them.”

What Petersen understand, is that he’s dealing with consumers who are different. He’s looking at the message. It’s an important distinction, rather than just lowering their prices so that when people comparison shop online their product comes up first, they are attempting to befriend the consumer in an honest way. Maytag is trying to get on consumers’ real-life buddy list or blogroll, if you will. Businesses will need to increasingly need to attempt to develop a dialogue with their consumer base if they hope to survive the massive shift we will see in the coming years. Just look at what the internet has done already to get an idea of the net’s power to substantially change business. Music downloading has forced the big music companies to rethink their entire strategy (although they’ve chosen to just sue to maintain the status quo instead, eventually they will have to change). The access to information and interconnected nature of the internet helped to speed up the whole Atkins craze that eventually shut down a number of food companies and practically destroy others (here’s looking at you Krispy Kreme).

My point, get a clue now and try to get a head start (even though you’re already late) or try to hold on (unsuccessfully) and see what happens. My other point, and I guess my bigger one, is that I want to be in on this. I want to be involved with a business that understands what’s going on here. One that knows that consumers are people too. One that believes in honesty and openness. To truly believe in those two things, in my mind at least, requires embracing the internet.

December 3, 2004