Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Feels Free - Jim Griffin, OneHouse LLC

What is happening now in freeing up information digitally is the most important difference since the Gutenberg Press. Sharing ideas, innovation, culture and arts will lead to all the other important stuff.

Music has been the canary in the cage for much in what is happening with digital data. What has happened with music is that it has become entirely voluntary to pay for music. Legally that may not be the case. Morally it also may not be right. But, practically it really is only voluntary to pay, it's a choice that we make when we consume media. It used to cost $15 to buy the album of a band say but now you can download/share for free if you wish. It is effectively a giant tip jar. But society cannot tolerate funding anything important this way - as a sign in Jim's local bookstore once said: "People who say they like poetry and don't buy some are cheap sons of bitches!"

At the same time we can't restrict access to material based on ability to pay (or parents ability to pay), this is absolutely essential. Libraries speak to this notion. Jim fears that if we had no libraries and someone proposed them they would never happen: it would be seen as a socialist or uncommercial idea. It's therefore an important tradition and restrictions to any information needs to considered in that context.

We are witnessing a "bionomic" flood - there are economic effects in the network but the network ways increasingly like biological things. The flow of data looks more like the flow of a stream or veins in the body. The rising tide of digitisation happens like a flood and has huge potentially devasting effects. However most people in creative industries have to move forward with digitisation in order to be, you can't think about whether it is a good idea or not. You want the shortest path to deliver content to people. Lowered costs of distribution are good, you can get to more content. But some are not rewarded in this model and have no incentive to create. Not good or bad - sometimes they are both. Cars for instance are good for commerce and freedom but also can kill you. You must address risk and how to deal with it. You try to believe that you can address risk with control but you also have just compensate rather than control.

Moore's Law will hold through till 2029 at least - doubling in power and halving in price whether or not there is a network so this trend wouldn't stop if the internet was shut down. Our notion of product economics is not coming back.

The major change with technology and information industries has not really begun. Exponential change has only just begun. Soon wifi and processing power will mean we can have what we want wherever and whenever we want. Storage becomes no issue at all. Distribution and delivery becomes the key issue. This will change dramatically. We won't remain a download culture. Warehouses in the modern world are signs of inefficiency. Hard drives will soon be seen as little warehouses. Just In Time delivery will come to digital industries too. Today is about digital distribution, tomorrow is about digital delivery.

Are these predictions of the far flung future? Jim was reading Mashall Macluhan the other day he said that you would never understand the media of your time - you are largely unconcious of it like a fish in water. If you want to understand your media you need to look in the rear view mirror of history. This leads Jim back to the library and microfiche (the smell of microfiche!) and the 1920s. This was when electricity really kicked off. You realise that change there was far more savage than the last 3000 days of dotcom fever. Acoustic becoming electric is far more savage than electric becoming digital. Your feet dictate your audience (if not in the room no one else can see or hear you), within 20 years you have sound recording, radio and television. That is enormous change, that is savage. How did we deal with that change and how can it help us deal with the future? There are great conversations to be had (in the next few years only) with those who remember that change and can help us understand.

Borge and Victor Hugo both dealt badly with their work being performed - trying to get orchestras and reading out loud banned! A first licensing scheme for music was set up then that is still the model today: people pay a license and fees are distributed from the pool. This will be the way of the future - paying into am acturial pool that is distributed. Should robots be factored in? This will be fascinating as we move forward.

We live in a time of Tarzan economics - you cling to your vine of product and treat them as if they are in a bound format. At some point you must drop the vine of product, and grab the vine of service. Libraries have an advantage: there is a female bias and they realize the value of relationships that never end. The music industry are full of men who cling to power and don't realize the value of their relationships. This feminisation of market will help us understand markets so much better and using information more intelligently.

We need to run things so well that no-one wants to be pirates: this will be an enormous move forward. Whilst the expense of being legal is high, people won't behave legally. If the business model requires restriction then you have an impossible journey ahead of you. All information business have to open up more. Granularity is the enemy of ideas: bundling is crucial. If the music made one key mistake in its industry it is the abandonment of albums in favour of singles. It has been disastrous. Pirates seem the problem but they are not: time and money are as people have other uses for both. Finally embrace the next generation: Facebook and the like come from schools, they are the hotbed for innovation.

Jim hopes that people have been stimulated to think but perhaps not to agree wholly yet. "We will have done the right thing when our information feels free without being free".

Jim concluded that those things you learn when you are under 13 you take for granted. Maybe if you get into this technology industry between 13 and 30 you will probably make a career of it. If you only encountered it over the age of 30 you are of the age group that just finds it weird of unnatural, regulated, banned etc. But we're on the way out. We have to adapt to that which is surely coming.

If you can remember today it should be as the day that you went forth from Torquay to rebuild the library of Alexandra, build a new vision from the world of digitisation or, to be sure, to realise that you can hold more in an open hand than a closed one...

An inspiring end to the conference to be sure!

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