Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Wikipedia is Dying, "Web 2.0" and "Shareware" will Perish as Well

In every generation there is a period during which a vocal minority of post-teenagers gets a good deal of attention for enthusiastically embracing altruism in one form or other.  They go through a phase of wanting to 'contribute' to society, to 'make a real difference,' to 'change the world' in a meaningful way.  These are pretty huge, ego-based ambitions for young people to harbour, but the 'student movement' has been around as long as there have been schools of higher education, so it seems to be a universal human trait inherent in some of the fortunates who aren't tossed directly from teenage-hood into the workplace, along with youthful marriages and kids to raise.

In the Boomer generation it was 'flower power', the 'free love' and anti-Vietnam activists who garnered attention for advocating ways to forever change the world, putting aside greed and self-serving motivations, channelling love instead.  Many in the Boomer cohort tried living in communes or kibbutzim, only to mature to the point where they realized idealism (and 'living rough') is best suited to the youngest of adults.

Gen X didn't have much to contribute in terms of a specific altruistic 'theme,' but their Millennial/Gen Y kids are entering adult society today and many are opting for a 'transition year' after university during which they travel the globe to work on charity projects and 'find themselves.'  Note that their parents and grandparents (and more and more often the firm they're taking a 'sabbatical' from) are paying for this additional year of 'giving back'.

There was another cohort of young idealists who became software programmers in their teens during the late '90's through to today.  Many had dreams of free software and wireless Internet access for all: free information, free music (breaking one business model without the benefit of creating a new one -- that was up to Apple with iTunes) and non-stop 'sharing' in the 'cloud' ('free' being the key component).  There were also many amongst them who wanted nothing more than a huge payout before they reached 20 for creating new Internet tools, many of them free services (see "Skype") with no built-in business model whatsoever (the irony was lost on them).
Fotolia stock images

Now Newsweek has published an article about the gradual, but inevitable demise of Wikipedia because it's army of altruistic 'editors' don't want to work for free anymore.  What is it that gradually kills these altruistic ideals in youthful cohorts?  Just one simple little thing.  Money.  More specifically the fact that money, not working hard to give stuff away for free, makes the world go round.

It's no coincidence that many of the young altruistic software programmers who advocated 'free' everything worked out of their parents' garages where the rent was free.  Once the majority of their age cohort had to leave the parental nest, they were confronted by one nasty fact, in human society nothing comes free!  Yes, you can live off the land, but once you interact with other humans, you are going to have to produce some form of payment in exchange for what you want or need.

But you already knew that.  The real insight is:

NOVELTY DRIVES FREE LABOUR

And the corollary: The Desire for Instant Fame Drives the Production of Free Content

(Note: novelty also drives the ability to charge a significant premium for the latest thing on the market, a gargantuan missed opportunity that the inventors and early contributors to the Internet failed to grasp, but that Apple has NEVER missed out on.)

We humans are odd ducks.  Ask us to paint a fence and you'll get a demand for compensation for doing a boring, dirty job out in the hot sun.  Give us the impression, as Tom Sawyer did, that the task is the latest new thing to do and we'll do it for free, or even go so far as to pay you to let us try it out.  With exposure/experience comes boredom, however, and we live and learn or we don't live long.

What continually blows me away is the firm conviction that young idealists shout from the rooftops these days, that 'free' is a viable business model that is here to stay.  They suggest that Wikipedia is here to stay: a free content service for which the labour is provided by volunteers.  Here's a wake-up call:

'FREE' IS UNSUSTAINABLE!

What this means (news flash to Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales) is that Wikipedia is eventually either going to finally move to a new business model, or it will cease to be contributed to.  What it also suggests is that the entire Internet is eventually going to change its model and that, after a long, bleak decade, eventually credible, clever, insightful journalists will go back to making money as the novelty of blogging and tweeting for free fade from everyone's radar.

Frankly, I've stopped contributing posts here frequently because blogging doesn't pay.  I'm not gaining any fame and I'm not getting paid, so why would I do this?  All the CEO's and celebs out there who are supposed to tweet and blog hours and hours a day to gain fame (and make more money?) are also not going to carry on doing so (most are already paying 'ghost twits' and PR firms to do this stuff for them -- meaning the posts have zero credibility).  As I've written about before with regard to bloggers receiving compensation to write positive posts, once credibility is gone, people stop believing and paying attention.

A wise person once said that opinions are like assholes, everyone has one and nobody needs another.  Mark my words, folks, a sea change is coming with regard to 'Social Marketing' sooner, rather than later.  "Web 3.0" has risen with Apple in the lead, and it will kill Web 2.0, as it should in a free market.

The young enthusiasts contributing to and developing Bit Torrent and its ilk actually have the temerity to put up posts telling users of the free file sharing network to contact their largely grey-haired congresspeople and demand that  they vote to "Stop the Internet BlackList", comparing the action the US legal system is taking to shut down the free sharing of entertainment properties (movies, music, games, etc.).  All the legal system is trying to impose upon all website owners is exactly the same rules as have always applied to every other medium -- make sure that the copyright owners are getting paid when you use their intellectual property.  What these kids are not taking into account is that one day soon THEY are going to want to get paid for their work and their intellectual property.

The missing link in all this?  Merely that no comprehensive online service yet exists (i.e. has every movie  and song title ever made) that sells shows/music for a reasonable fee (and I never believed that charging $24.99 for a movie or $19.99 for a band's album was a reasonable price -- there's a few too many low-talent celebrities and their 'managerial' hangers-on making far too many millions for me to buy into those arbitrary prices).  Once you can watch Avatar on demand anywhere, anytime for a buck, there's little incentive to illegally download it for free.

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