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The Metaphors of the Net – Part IV

Written By: Sam Vaknin

F. The Transport of Information – Internet News

Internet news are advantaged. They are frequently and dynamically updated (unlike static print news) and are always accessible (similar to print news), immediate and fresh.

The future will witness a form of interactive news. A special “corner” in the news Web site will accommodate “breaking news” posted by members of the the public (or corporate press releases). This will provide readers with a glimpse into the making of the news, the raw material news are made of. The same technology will be applied to interactive TVs. Content will be downloaded from the internet and displayed as an overlay on the TV screen or in a box in it. The contents downloaded will be directly connected to the TV programming. Thus, the biography and track record of a football player will be displayed during a football match and the history of a country when it gets news coverage.

4. Terra Internetica – Internet, an Unknown Continent

Laymen and experts alike talk about “sites” and “advertising space”. Yet, the Internet was never compared to a new continent whose surface is infinite.

The Internet has its own real estate developers and construction companies. The real life equivalents derive their profits from the scarcity of the resource that they exploit – the Internet counterparts derive their profits from the tenants (content producers and distributors, e-tailers, and others).

Entrepreneurs bought “Internet Space” (pages, domain names, portals) and leveraged their acquisition commercially by:

Renting space out;
Constructing infrastructure on their property and selling it;
Providing an intelligent gateway, entry point (portal) to the rest of the internet;
Selling advertising space which subsidizes the tenants (Yahoo!-Geocities, Tripod and others);
Cybersquatting (purchasing specific domain names identical to brand names in the “real” world) and then selling the domain name to an interested party.
Internet Space can be easily purchased or created. The investment is low and getting lower with the introduction of competition in the field of domain registration services and the increase in the number of top domains.

Then, infrastructure can be erected – for a shopping mall, for free home pages, for a portal, or for another purpose. It is precisely this infrastructure that the developer can later sell, lease, franchise, or rent out.

But this real estate bubble was the culmination of a long and tortuous process.

At the beginning, only members of the fringes and the avant-garde (inventors, risk assuming entrepreneurs, gamblers) invest in a new invention. No one knows to say what are the optimal uses of the invention (in other words, what is its future). Many – mostly members of the scientific and business elites – argue that there is no real need for the invention and that it substitutes a new and untried way for old and tried modes of doing the same things (so why assume the risk of investing in the unknown and the untried?).

Moreover, these criticisms are usually well-founded.

To start with, there is, indeed, no need for the new medium. A new medium invents itself – and the need for it. It also generates its own market to satisfy this newly found need.

Two prime examples of this self-recursive process are the personal computer and the compact disc.

When the PC was invented, its uses were completely unclear. Its performance was lacking, its abilities limited, it was unbearably user unfriendly. It suffered from faulty design, was absent any user comfort and ease of use and required considerable professional knowledge to operate. The worst part was that this knowledge was exclusive to the new invention (not portable). It reduced labour mobility and limited one’s professional horizons. There were many gripes among workers assigned to tame the new beast. Managers regarded it at best as a nuisance.

The PC was thought of, at the beginning, as a sophisticated gaming machine, an electronic baby-sitter. It included a keyboard, so it was thought of in terms of a glorified typewriter or spreadsheet. It was used mainly as a word processor (and the outlay justified solely on these grounds). The spreadsheet was the first real PC application and it demonstrated the advantages inherent to this new machine (mainly flexibility and speed). Still, it was more of the same. A speedier sliding ruler. After all, said the unconvinced, what was the difference between this and a hand held calculator (some of them already had computing, memory and programming features)?

The PC was recognized as a medium only 30 years after it was invented with the introduction of multimedia software. All this time, the computer continued to spin off markets and secondary markets, needs and professional specialties. The talk as always was centred on how to improve on existing markets and solutions.

The Internet is the computer’s first important application. Hitherto the computer was only quantitatively different to other computing or gaming devices. Multimedia and the Internet have made it qualitatively superior, sui generis, unique.

Part of the problem was that the Internet was invented, is maintained and is operated by computer professionals. For decades these people have been conditioned to think in Olympic terms: faster, stronger, higher – not in terms of the new, the unprecedented, or the non-existent. Engineers are trained to improve – seldom to invent. With few exceptions, its creators stumbled across the Internet – it invented itself despite them.

Computer professionals (hardware and software experts alike) – are linear thinkers. The Internet is non linear and modular.

It is still the age of hackers. There is still a lot to be done in improving technological prowess and powers. But their control of the contents is waning and they are being gradually replaced by communicators, creative people, advertising executives, psychologists, venture capitalists, and the totally unpredictable masses who flock to flaunt their home pages and graphomania.

These all are attuned to the user, his mental needs and his information and entertainment preferences.

The compact disc is a different tale. It was intentionally invented to improve upon an existing technology (basically, Edisons Gramophone). Market-wise, this was a major gamble. The improvement was, at first, debatable (many said that the sound quality of the first generation of compact discs was inferior to that of its contemporaneous record players). Consumers had to be convinced to change both software and hardware and to dish out thousands of dollars just to listen to what the manufacturers claimed was more a authentically reproduced sound. A better argument was the longer life of the software (though when contrasted with the limited life expectancy of the consumer, some of the first sales pitches sounded absolutely morbid).

The computer suffered from unclear positioning. The compact disc was very clear as to its main functions – but had a rough time convincing the consumers that it was needed.

Every medium is first controlled by the technical people. Gutenberg was a printer – not a publisher. Yet, he is the world’s most famous publisher. The technical cadre is joined by dubious or small-scale entrepreneurs and, together, they establish ventures with no clear vision, market-oriented thinking, or orderly plan of action. The legislator is also dumbfounded and does not grasp what is happening – thus, there is no legislation to regulate the use of the medium. Witness the initial confusion concerning copyrighted vs. licenced software, e-books, and the copyrights of ROM embedded software. Abuse or under-utilization of resources grow. The sale of radio frequencies to the first cellular phone operators in the West – a situation which repeats itself in Eastern and Central Europe nowadays – is an example.

But then more complex transactions – exactly as in real estate in “real life” – begin to emerge. The Internet is likely to converge with “real life”. It is likely to be dominated by brick and mortar entities which are likely to import their business methods and management. As its eccentric past (the dot.com boom and the dot.bomb bust) recedes – a sustainable and profitable future awaits it.

About the Author

Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory Bellaonline, and Suite101 .

Visit Sam’s Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com

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