Ghost Sites of the Web

Web 1.0 history, forgotten web celebrities, old web sites, commentary, and news by Steve Baldwin. Published erratically since 1996.

November 20, 2007

What Planet is Jaron Lanier From?

What Planet is Jaron Lanier From?
In yesterday's New York Times, Jaron Lanier argues that "creative types" should be paid for their cyberworks, a 180-degree shift away from his long-standing position that they should simply join the free-content smorgasborg and hope for the best.

Lanier notes that Google and other Silicon Valley companies have built multi-billion dollar empires on the backs of unpaid content creators by using this "free" content to sell advertising (before Google, AOL did the same thing, using thousands of unpaid volunteers whose only compensation was a free AOL account.) "How long must creative people wait for the Web’s new wealth to find a path to their doors?" he asks.

Sorry, but the answer is "forever." The only people who will ever make money from Web content are the aggregators, the plumbers, the middle-men, and the indexers. Words are merely wood chips in the vast virtual pulp-making machine of the Web. Content producers face only one choice: they can create/publish their works for free, or they can shut up and be invisible. If they do the former, they'll be poor but known (at least within their content niche); if they do the latter they'll be poor but unknown. Most opt for the former, because it's far better to be alone in the woods with a can of beans (courtesy of Adsense) than alone with nothing.

Lanier's notion that that "software engineers and Internet evangelists" are going to spontaneously create more wealth-giving networks for the benefit of their "creative friends" won't go far. Nobody gives a rat's ass about writers and artists in Silicon Valley: what commands respect are those who claw themselves to the top by consuming those weaker and lower down on the food chain. This is the only ideology, and the only idealism, in the technology business, and it's time we get honest about the kind of people we actually have become.


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