Shamefacedly conceded

We hate “analysts” because they tend toward apologia and fraud; generally, they are blinkered, unsophisticated Republicans.

Then there’s Clay Shirky. He talks big and sounds nice and definitive, after the manner of blustery “analysts” everywhere, but why, oh, why does he have to make such good sense most of the time?

We wish we could keep up with him. Apparently he is simply a fellow we will have to admire from afar.

What did he tell Slashdot in a Q&A about “Internet evolution”?

We have just lived through a period in which, by lowering the barriers to creating a media outlet, it was assumed that we were witnessing the mass professionalization of media. But mass professionalization is an oxymoron. The mistake I think we’ve made is to assume that we need to find ways of increasing revenues so we can all go pro. What we are witnessing is the mass amateurization of media, because the net has revolutionized media in the other direction, reducing the cost of being a media outlet to the point where many many more people can participate, and with peer-to-peer models offloading even more of the costs to the edges of the network (viz Napster), the lowering of the barriers still has a ways to go. The unfortunate fact of this lowering of barriers is that an increase in amateur participation puts further pressure on online media outlets hoping to go pro. The collapse of the content sites is just beginning, and there is no short-term fix for that. Advertising revenue will eventually be able to support good sites, but it will take quite some time before both the models and the demand are in place.

He’s not done yet:

I believe that the fundamentals of micropayments, namely being embraced by users, are impossible to achieve. Do this thought experiment: Assume there are two comparable sources of financial news, one that charges a penny a page, and one that charges a subscription. Other things being equal, which system would you use?

Actually, this question has been explored in metered local telephone calls, which are occasionally bruited for Canada but will never be tolerated. There are two models: Pay by the minute or pay per call (the Australian system). What did Bill Buxton of Alias<vertical bar>Wavefront have to say a few years back?

Let’s put it this way. If you had a payphone in your house and the phone was there for free, so there was no monthly rate, but you had to pay a quarter or even a dime every time you used it, your use of the phone would change [in] frequency and when. That’s true even though it’s likely that, in many cases, even paying a quarter, your phone bill would be less. It’s psychologically a very different act. It’s the attitude you take to the phone. And that’s assuming [you have] a pocketful of quarters.

Even the Australian model affects behaviour dramatically. I know that because when I’m in hotel rooms [where they charge per local call, I] will go out of the hotel and make the call with my charge card just because it offends me so much that they’re charging me that extra buck for a call. That’s what pay-per-call does for me. It makes me want to never stay at that hotel again.

Back with Shirky:

Micropayments could only work in a system where the producers have monopoly control. In a competitive environment, user preference for predictable pricing and a desire to be spared the anxiety of the meter ticking will always make micropayments vulnerable to competition by alternate pricing schemes.

Or, put another way, micropayments will work only if everyone converts to them simultaneously. We could give you a few links, but the critical mass hasn’t happened yet.

Anyway, we’re tired of hiding, tired of suppressing our “other life.” We don’t care who knows. We’re shirkiphiles and we’re proud.

Posted on 2001-03-31