Information Wants to Be Friction-Free

Andy Weissman is a partner at Union Square Ventures, a New York based venture capital firm. Recently Andy Weissman's firm has been identifying opportunities that are "native" to (i.e., cannot exist without) portable internet-connected phones and tablets. This means that Andy and his partners have been spending their days thinking about what makes the mobile experience of the internet unique. For example, the mobile internet allows users to conveniently upload video input. Consequently, Andy and his partners have been trying to figure out how to monetize the video-upload ability of mobile devices, perhaps coupled with other "native" mobile abilities (like knowing the exact location of a user in relation to stores, landmarks, and other users).

All his research into the functionality of the internet and the exploding opportunities with mobile devices - and his credentials as a capitalist - make Andy Weissman uniquely qualified to blog, as he did on February 3rd, 2012 for the Tribeca Film Future of Film blog, about how the internet is changing the way that information is shared. In particular, in his Feb. 3rd, 2012 blogpost Andy Weissman examined why the centralized networks of Old World media are so threatened by the distributed network of the web.

The starting point for Andy's blogpost was a quote from Stewart Brand:

"On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other."

The tension between free and expensive information has become critical because 1) digital files are so easy to copy, 2) the internet makes it cheap and easy to share digital copies and 3) the internet is not built around a centralized system of distribution:

As Andy Weissman observed: "In centralized systems, production, marketing, promotion and distribution are viewed as costs, expenses, and something to be tightly controlled and managed."

This sort of centralized control is what the big motion picture companies (as well as the recorded music, book and newspaper publishing businesses, etc.) have relied on for over 100 years. It is how Old Media monetizes content.

In the 21st Century, the distributed network (made possible by the internet) presents a new model, one of distributed control.

Rather than adapting to the new distributed network, Old Media is fighting to retain centralized control, spending millions to lobby for new laws like SOPA and PIPA and international treaties like ACTA.

Seen in this light, SOPA, PIPA and ACTA all are efforts by Old Media to have the internet function with choke points (as in the center diagram above), by making internet service providers act as gatekeepers, responsible for monitoring all online activity and reporting and/or censoring any content that moves across the internet in unpermissioned ways.

Essentially, these new laws and treaties are efforts to impose a 20th Century system of content distribution onto a 21st Century system.

Instead of centralized controls (with one or several choke points) the internet favors distributed control.

As Andy Weissman wrote: "What networks do is that they take the traditional "distribution" roles associated with information — production, marketing, promotion — and push those to the edges, the nodes, as opposed to a centralized source. And they do so in more transparent, non-hierarchical manner."

The problem (from the perspective of Old Media) with the distributed network, is that once content is created, it can move across the network without passing through traditional portals (e.g., stores or ad-supported channels) where revenue is captured.

The problem (from the perspective of 21st century internet users) with SOPA, PIPA and ACTA is that these new laws and treaties are designed to push the flow of information through bottlenecks where it can be censored and/or monetized.

Opponents of SOPA, PIPA and ACTA fear that heavy-handed and backward-looking regulation will cripple how the internet functions, killing innovation and thwarting the perfectly legal sharing of files and information (e.g., blocking entire websites or banning millions of videos created by mobile users, just because some might include a snippet of a copyright song or a TV set playing a copyright show in the background).

In Andy Weissman's view, the effort to impose a centralized hierarchical structure on the internet, via new laws and treaties, misses the fundamental truth about how information moves across the internet. And that's the problem.

It isn't that users don't want to pay for copyright content, it's that copyright content should not be monetized in ways that prevent the unimpeded flow of perfectly-legal information online.

As Andy Weissman writes: On the 21st Century distributed network, "information just wants to be distributed friction-free."

No comments:

Randy Finch's Film Blog:

Thoughts from a film producer about making and distributing films.