“Information wants to be free” (almost)

Posted by jlubans on February 28, 2018

The qualifier – almost - explains why since back in the day (1984, no less!) we have competing systems: vast ranges of free information and numerous fenced in sources of information.
We now know much of the Internet is not free.
Nor is there a middle class in the Internet economy.
There are the Have Nots, all of us under the long, long tail of the Internet and there are the Haves up front.
The Haves are a peculiar sort, because they do not provide content – the words, pictures, videos, selfies, and essays.
The Haves arrange the content and control the content. They manage it and they monetize it.
In other words, never have so many written so much for free to be read by so few so what they write can be monetized by a few, namely Google and Facebook through advertising revenue.
It is as simple as that. There is nothing innovative about this. What is new is that the exploitation has never been so complicit or gigantic.
When will content providers (including those of us who share cute cat videos or travel photos or who write blogs come to terms with this?
To their credit, the Haves created mechanisms for the “sharing” of the content and for linking to the content.
What about the Have Nots?
Yes, we are willing participants.
We seek “likes”, we seek “comments”, we want to share – often we are happy to make our information free.
But do we really want to do that so a very few benefit while we get nothing back beyond a little recognition or fleeting pleasure?
A few days ago the WSJ wrote about proposed legislation that would permit publishers to engage in collective bargaining with those profiting from their content.
Facebook’s news stream, visited by millions we are told, does not pay for the news to which it links.
It does pay for the mechanism of spotting trends (however slanted) via human or machine means, but the linked-to content is free to Facebook or to Drudge or to Google.
Presumably, the content provider does have the opportunity to advertise or to push readers to buy their publications. However, this incidental revenue is tiny when compared to the ad revenue earned by the aggregators.
Understandably, the publishers seeing their profits declining, news rooms depleting and the aggregators profits sky rocketing, want a piece of the action.
The legislation would allow publishers, as a combine, to set prices and to seek compensation from those making profit from their work.
How much? Well, the WSJ has this to say: Facebook... generated $40 billion in annual revenue from its ability to narrowly target advertisers’ messages to receptive audiences." I am not at all sure about how "receptive" any of the audiences are!
Well, then, what about this blog? I do not seek a profit (nor should I since under the present system revenue is almost impossible.) You could say my information really does want to be free, almost has to be free, if anyone is to read it!
If I want to “boost” this blog post (the one you are reading) according to Facebook, I can pay them $53.00 to “reach” 48,000 strangers on Facebook. That’s for one post.
I suspect were my IP address in Moscow (Russia not Idaho) my post would be boosted as well as long as my credit card paid for it. Add several thousand rubles and I can "reach" several hundred thousand strangers.
The “reach” is manifest in those annoying “boosts” of opinion and products, etc that come out of nowhere on your personal Facebook page mixed in with updates from friends and political rants.
Facebook assures me, “Others like you are doing this” so I too should join in boosting. In other words the already congested and polluted pages of Facebook are to become even more cluttered and I am to pay for it.
What’s the sense of that?
As well, I imagine I could do some advertising or "boosting" on Google. As long as I pay for it.
One small step. I will close the archives to my Leadig from the Middle blog (published twice weekly since March of 2010). My doing so will have zero effect but for me to gain control of my work. If others like me do the same, the Haves might need to come to terms with adding value to our work.
So, does "information want to be free"?
Let's return to the failed premise from which that 1984 quote arose: "information almost wants to be free because the costs of getting it out is getting lower and lower all of the time." The costs of "getting it out" may indeed be ever decreasing, but the costs of creating it have never been higher.

© Copyright John Lubans 2018
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