Wednesday, March 09, 2005

"Now you have no control."

The following is part of a speech given by Michael Woolf, The Vanity Fair media columnist at the 2005 SIIA Information Industry Summit in New York City on February 1. Woolf is know for coining the phrase that information wants to be free. You can check out the full speech at I find his comments on information theory and the role of gatekeepers interesting. I also am fascinated by his prediction about blogs.

....A profound change has happened. The ecology of information has altered, and virtually nobody (at least nobody who has a job) has been willing to really examine the implications of information flowing not from it's usual source but from so many other sources. The implications of one person having this remarkable control. I mean, that's the reversal. It used to be that if you were an information provider you had control. Now you have no control. Control has absolutely passed to the consumer.
The ecology of information has been disrupted because there is so much information that nobody has authority. So if you're in the information business what you have been customarily selling is authority: "We know. We have information." Nobody believes that you have information anymore. Nobody believes your information should not be qualified by other information.
The most interesting change in the information ecology I know is actually the Martha Stewart model in which she closes the loop on information. She is just selling herself so it's a circular thing. All we can do in the media business is sell. But instead of selling someone else's products, we will just sell ourselves. So we have no product to sell. We have no information, as it were, to sell. We just have the name Martha Stewart to sell, which has worked. If I had to go back into the media business that's exactly what I would do. I would go to jail.
I want to stop rambling and finish up by telling you why I don't want to write a blog. Because I don't. At some point in the '50s Truman Capote was asked about Jack Kerouac, and he said, "That's not writing, that's typing," which is to some degree how I feel about blogs. I even hate saying the word blog. I hate being forced to say the word blog.
When I look at that particular blog piece of software I react viscerally. I said, "Oh, I don't want this. I don't want to be part of this." There's that scene in "Doctor Zhivago" where the professionals and the intelligentsia are reduced to having to walk with the hoi polloi, and that's what I feel when I'm forced into this blog stuff.
So I want to take what I think of as a noble and principled stand in saying that I'm not going to be part of this blog stuff. And I'm going to insist upon this until I am washed away.
Thank you very much. Any questions? I'd be delighted ...
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: What's your reaction to the news that Universal is renegotiating its licenses on the music business with the various channel partners? And why are you so pessimistic when there are channel partners that are making 50 percent margins on the music business? Don't you think it's still just a redistribution of the profits that are in effect? And the other comment is that, you know, Universal cut the prices and they upped their consumption. So are you convinced that the music business as a content business is dead?
WOLFF: No, as I said, I think it can be the book business. I think the music business as a business that we know -- the business that we think of the business of incredible margins, incredible excess -- is over. Yeah, I mean over the course of this change in the value of content people still stay in business somehow. I'm not sure why they stay in business. And if I were in the music business, I would say, "What am I doing here? I've got to go back to graduate school or something." But yeah, there's something. I mean, there's still a business there.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: What role do you see blogs playing in the new ecology of information? They seem to have an impact.
WOLFF: Well, they do have impact. Part of it is actually involved with a kind of further devaluation of information because what it sets up is this constant second guessing of information. Which is not necessarily bad but it does lower the value of all information. You undermine that authority of information. But having been around this business now for some time I've learned that nothing lasts too long. By all rights, 18 months from now we should be looking back at this and all kind of embarrassed to say the word blog -- I hope.


Post a Comment

<< Home