Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Break's Over, Get Back to Work!

Can you hear it, too? All over the internet, I can hear the sound of blogs and websites closing down. A sort of mix of an eery silence and doors banging shut in a vast, echoing corridor.

It's hard to be sure what this means. Partly, it is simply that the action has moved on. Blog City is reverting to the muddy field it was before the circus rolled in, and now it's the turn of the neighbours in Twitter Terrace to complain about the noise. It's probably also a reaction to the fact that there are now simply too many blogs to keep track of. Who's got the time? But I think it is mainly that a generation of early adopters has finally grown weary of making content freely available while platform providers like Google and Facebook get filthy rich.

It reminds me of the situation with academic journals, where publicly-funded research is written up and published by university staff -- completely unremunerated -- in privately-owned journals which then charge truly astronomical subscription prices to the libraries of the very same institutions that employ those academics to do the research. It's a money machine!

The contradictions inherent in Web-based "intellectual property rights" are one of the hot contemporary issues. We all want everything to be freely available on the web, but we all want to be fairly recompensed for our own labour. "Information wants to be free" is a nice slogan, but only half the story. The full, original quotation goes like this:
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.

Stewart Brand (Whole Earth Catalog guy) to Steve Wozniak (that other Apple guy) in 1984
Think about it. Let's say one person spends two hours writing a post, and 500 others spend five minutes reading it. Was it an experience worth, say, a negligible ten pence to them? If so, then £50 would be due to the writer. That would be a rate of £25 an hour, or perhaps more realistically £50 a day -- a modest but acceptable return on the writer's labour. Of course, in the case of the more popular blogs with 25 thousand or more readers, that translates to a rate of £2,500 per day.

But these financial transactions never take place; the writer's labour is simply tipped into the bottomless pit of free content that is the World Wide Web. Looking back, I see that I will soon have written 500 posts over the three year life of this blog. If we say that each post was worth that modest £50, then that's £25,000 I have lost down the back of the World Wide Sofa. Multiply that by the number of bloggers and web-site owners and you start to see where the mind-boggling wealth of Google and Facebook is coming from. "Bloggers of the world, unite..."

In case you are wondering, I don't think I am about to stop blogging on principle, however. At least, not until I reach that 500 mark, anyway. I have no illusions about the consequences of withdrawing my labour from the global pool of Web peonage. Google's share price would probably not be affected.

However, I remember back in the 1980s -- when some people were taking the expression "management guru" too literally, and the Way of the Flipchart was being disseminated in gnomic wisdom-tales about frogs, hot water, and the like -- I once heard someone compare leaving an organisation to removing one's hand from a bucket of water. See? It leaves no trace! You are like that hand: don't over-value your contribution to the corporate karma-count, grasshopper! Well, I was bored and decided to speak up and mention that Archimedes bloke and displacement; if nothing else, I learned that gurus don't like to be interrupted or contradicted.

But it's surely true, or truthier, that anything and everything makes a difference to something, somewhere? I am reminded of this demented but presumably correct effusion from the Angry Man of English Letters, Thomas Carlyle:
It is a mathematical fact that the casting of this pebble from my hand alters the centre of gravity of the universe.
Sartor Resartus, 1834
Quite so, Sir, quite so. But mind where you're chucking that pebble, please.


shaggy dog pix said...

Nice to have you back on the air. Or....in the ether...

Graham Dew said...

Hello Mike and welcome back!

Too many blogs? There are too many books to read, more music than I can ever listen too, six billion pictures on flickr that I won't see and about seven billion people that I’ll never get to meet. But I have favourite books, a few albums, some precious pictures and some good friends and family that enrich my life. And the Idiotic Hat is one of only a few blogs that I return to.

If you want payment I will buy you a beer some day…

Xuereb said...

Welcome back, what a relief to know that someone intelligent and aesthetic taste is not going to go off the air.

Xuereb said...

Er, that should have been 'with' aesthetic taste.

Martin said...

Yes, blogs have been dropping like flies and, where there has been an explanation, it's invariably linked to having run out of steam.

Good to have you back, Mike, hopefully for another 500 at least!

Paul Mc Cann said...

Yep. Good to have you back. I've been missing the esoterica !

Adam Long said...

Good to have you back Mike.

Mike C. said...

Thanks to everyone for the warm welcome back, on and off blog. I've enjoyed having a break, but it's good to be back.