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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Open Data and the Future of Business (Vol. 1)

[Editor’s Note: Okay, so I’ve been working on this idea for awhile where I would post a back-and-forth conversation on the blog, but hadn’t really found any takers. Then a few weeks ago I was having breakfast with Johnny Vulkan from Anomaly and we were talking about lots of interesting stuff. Afterwards I wrote Johnny an email, asking him if he’d be down for doing something like this and he said yes. So basically, over the next three days I am going to post our back and forth. It started on March 10, 2009 and ended last week (it didn’t have to end, but for the sake of this series of posts it did). This is an experiment, let me know if you like it.]

From: Noah
To: Johnny
Date: March 10, 2009

Hey dude, so I’ve been playing around with this idea for awhile to do a post (or series of posts) where I just email back and forth with interesting folks about whatever. So I was about to send you links to the Guardian Open Platform announcement to see what you thought and I figured maybe we could give it a try?

Guardian Open Platform
Guardian Datablog
Guardian Data Store

Either way, really curious to know what you think. And if you’re down for the post, just respond and then I’ll respond back and at whatever point the conversation begins to peter out we’ll cut it and I’ll post it.

Thanks dude,
Noah

From: Johnny
To: Noah
Date: March 19, 2009

Hi Noah – belatedly…yes, I’d love to play… :)

So… to The Guardian and the Open Platform… My instant response is great! At this moment in time ‘open’ is the defining qualifier for popular success. Few things are launched in a closed environment and while there are some restrictions there is nothing surprising about those. Now we have to sit back and see what people will do with it.

In particular I’m in love with the Data Blog and have lost a reasonably obscene amount of time over the past few days getting lost in chart lust. I fear I’ve gained a new addiction and suspect the 127 people following their posts on twitter as I’m writing this will be a fair bit more before too long (http://twitter.com/datastore)

But there is something that has me conflicted (and excited in equal measure) and by voicing it I fear I’ll open a huge can of virtual worms, but it’s a can of worms worth opening.

It’s free.

And ‘free’ is a business model that isn’t working for a lot of people right now. Free, of course isn’t really free because it’s based on an equation that says ‘free’ brings an audience, an audience has eyeballs and advertisers love eyeballs.

The social media technology media boom was and still is based on this equation but a couple of things are getting clearer. Firstly, advertisers – some may be surprised to hear – also read blogs and increasingly buy into ‘free’ as well. Why should they pay for media space when if they’ve got a great product or service it’s going to get talked about anyway. Secondly as they reduce their expenditure it means there’s simply less to go round. The equation doesn’t work.

Now, if you’re The Guardian that isn’t a problem – the publication is run at a loss and has been for years, supported by other publications in their publishing family (a bit like Google funding YouTube) and until very recently support from a foundation.

From a personal individual level I absolutely love what The Guardian has done with this experiment into Open Platform but we must realize that very few can follow and the bar has just been raised that much higher for everyone else. Media publications are folding at a daily rate. Some may call it natural selection, but it does mean we’re losing many great local and regional voices in the fallout.

But, lets back track. I said I’m excited as well as conflicted. The conflict comes from my desire to see businesses work. If they do then it means people keep their jobs, their kids get fed and educated and have a chance to grow up to write long emails about social media. Most of that is a very good thing. My excitement comes from the impetus that ‘failure’ creates. We are at huge inflection point for the classic capitalist model, the next great evolution in our personal equation on what we need to live and thrive as a society. I hope (and think) that what emerges is not a rebuilding of what was and is not a ‘return’ to the good old days but rather it’s something new, shiny and maybe very little to do with what business was in the past… but lets save that for another email… maybe one which starts with this gentle shift in opinion as a talking point….

JV

Read all three: Volume 1, Volume 2 and Volume 3.

April 13, 2009