Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Murdoch to vanish in cloud of hyperlinks

So Rupert Murdoch's planning to block all his stuff from Google, because he reckons they're stealing his content. There are a number of views on this strategy, but they fall into two broad categories:

Rupert Murdoch is a Global Media Tyrant who can pick governments and start international wars if he so chooses. Turning the internet into a walled garden shouldn't be too much of a problem for him.

Rupert Murdoch is a daft old pensioner who doesn't understand new technology, and has just pushed the self-destruct button. The whole thing is like an infinitely more pleasurable and globally significant version of watching your granddad try to make his mobile phone work.[1]

Which is true? Well obviously, being a decent human being, I believe that what's bad for News International is good for the rest of the world, and would like to believe scenario 2. But I'm not really sure. So I'm going to spew out a few random points, which I'm going to add to as I think of them:

1) This poll in the Guardian is asking the wrong question. It's not a competition between News Corp and Google. It's a competition between Murdoch and other news providers. If enough serious news providers on the web go bust then, as Nick Carr points out, charging people for content becomes a much more attractive proposition. The Murdoch family say as much when they're doing their BBC bashing.

2) What happens to blogs under this scenario? Will it open up more of a space for the magical digital commons utopia future and innovative new business models that folks like Clay Shirky and Tim Lee think is going to happen?

3) Unless we're prepared to assume unlikely things about the direction of copyright law, he's never going to get actual facts behind a paywall. So people are gong to be paying for the wonderful expression and nuanced analysis that are taking place behind the Murdoch paywall. If that's true, you wouldn't expect him to have too much luck.

Most of the Sun's online content, for example, strikes me as eminently replaceable. Tabloid opinions are like arseholes - they're shitty, everyone's got one, and most of us don't get paid for it. So whilst Rupe can already charge for the Wall Street Journal, he might have some more problems with some of the others.

Then again, I've never really understood the argument that he'll always be able to charge for the WSJ. Specialised topics like finance may be the ones that are most valuable to people, but they're also the ones that attract the largest number of clued-up folk who will offer news and insights for free, either because they're shamless self-promoters or they're just very interested in the topic. There are enough great finance and technology blogs out there already that you'd think the WSJ was eminently replaceable too.

Update: There's at least a rumor that the plan is an exclusive deal with Microsoft, so that you can only find Rupe's content on Bing. Siva Vaidhyanathan has some smart thoughts on it.

[1] Actually, MY granddad is far more competent with technology than an octogenarian has any right to be. He's also, for what it's worth, an Australian. Just saying...


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