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The Art of Being a User

Friday, September 1, 2000 by Dave Winer.

Napster at Seybold Permalink to Napster at Seybold

On Tuesday I did two sessions at Seybold, one on Napster, and the other an informal face-to-face discussion between Scripting News and DaveNet readers.

Based on the experience at the Broadband conference, earlier in August, I expected the Napster session to be a raucous unprofessional brawl. I thought the Seybold people would be up in arms over Napster, in the same way they didn't like the Web in the mid-90s. At that time, I was the outsider, bringing them bad tidings. "The Web is going to change everything you do," I would say. And they would say "We don't think so." And sometimes the voices would raise and the so would the tempers.

But it wasn't like that on Tuesday. We had an interesting thoughtful and professional discussion, and all of the comments were pro-Napster, in favor of using music on the Internet, sympathetic to the artists, and critical of the music industry for trying to stop Napster. So why didn't we go through the same experience Tuesday when discussing music on the Internet? Well, one theory is that this is about someone else's intellectual property, not theirs, so what's there to worry about? However, if that was true, we wouldn't have covered all the bases, and we did cover them all.

So here's what I think. The Web changed the publishing industry. All the stuff I write is on the Web, and if you write for a newspaper or magazine, all yours is too. The business model of the Web, which caused all the trouble in the mid-90s is still undecided. Ads on Web pages don't make enough money to support all the editorial processes used in creating a publication. But if you're in the publishing industry and you haven't come to grips with this, you're probably not in the publishing industry anymore.

One comment from an editor of the Christian Science Monitor, whose name I didn't catch, was particularly poignant. He talked about the model for the newspaper of the future revolving around (what I call) amateur journalism. The power is with the authors now, he said, and they will only get more powerful in the future,. This is a dramatic change in pov from a few years ago. Even I, the radical in Seybold-space, wanted to temper that. People still want to know who said what. Reputations and track records matter. I explained what weblogs are, an Epinions user spoke, and we came to an agreement. Music will go the same way as print has. Dead trees and CDs are the old way. There's a new way coming. How will it work? We don't know.

A father of a fourteen-year-old said the teens think they will get all their music for free. I said that may change as they get older, or it may not. Certainly our parents didn't think the world we were creating would work. We marched on Washington, many of us refused to fight in Vietnam, we didn't like the president and we said so. We had birth control, so we could have sex without having children. All these things stripped the gears of our parents' generation.

So, following that pattern, figuring out how the music industry of the future works, and the publishing industry of the future, will not be our problem, it will be theirs.

BTW, the great thing about music at these conferences is that the AV guys get involved in the discussion. They're all musicians!

What haven't we talked about yet? Permalink to What haven't we talked about yet?

We've certainly dealt with software and copy protection, that happened in the 80s, and then in the 90s with the "open source" movement, which I'll talk about more in future pieces.

Newspapers and magazines were assimilated in the mid-90s through the Web, and the music industry got dragged into the future by Napster.

The movie industry is still relatively immune because of the huge size of their files, but even they have gotten messed up with their legal travails and abuse of the First Amendment re DeCSS.

So who remains? The book industry, of course. They're next.

But first a story about Dick Brass.

Dick Brass Permalink to Dick Brass

The big topic at Seybold this year was E-books and Digital Rights Management. Promoted by Microsoft, specifically Dick Brass, who I used to hang out with in the mid-80s, long before he worked at Microsoft.

Now, people say I'm disrespectful, but I just like to have fun. Look at how other writers do it. I'm just a writer, and Dick Brass is fun, esp if you don't take him too seriously. He has such a unique way of talking, I can actually impersonate him! There's a story I love to tell about this. I introduced Dick to Adam Green, another friend from the 80s. They were going to do an LBO of Ashton-Tate (LBOs were the hot thing in the 80s). I could also impersonate Adam. In my impersonation Dick would say in his high-pitched squeal "Come on Adam, let's dooooo it! You'll see, it'll be funnnn!" Then Adam would lisp "I'm Adam Gween, I know thdeez stheengs!"

Anyway, Dick is one of the most forceful hucksters I've ever met, it can be really hard to get a word in edgewise, but he's smart, very smart, and he's passionate about the stuff he sells. In the 80s it was reference books on computers, dictionaries, thesauri, information. Dick envisioned the Web in ways that Tim Berners-Lee didn't. That was the brilliance of TBL, he built a platform that a lot of our visions could play out on.

Now Dick is the chief promoter of Microsoft's E-books initiative. They make software and define a hardware platform for reading books on a computer screen. You can read the books on an ordinary desktop computer using special software, which seems weird to me, when we already have the Web, and Microsoft has the number one Web browser.

But I really like the idea of reading books on a portable device that plays like a book. I can see a lot of advantages for people with aging eyes like mine. I'd like to make the type bigger, much bigger, then when I'm lying down I can use more positions and stretch my lower back while doing it, instead of having to remain in one of very few positions where my eyes can read the text. So thank you for the form factor, it's going to make a big difference.

But the DRM stuff has got to go Permalink to But the DRM stuff has got to go

DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, which is a fancy name for copy protection. This is such a repeating loop. First the software industry makes the mistake of not trusting their users, then the music industry embarks on an ill-fated attempt to control how music lovers can use their product, and now the book industry is doing the same thing.

Why does this suck so much? Because there's this beautiful moment when a new medium opens up and the art of being a user becomes an intoxicating experience. Our love is tapped, as is our gratitude (and our checkbooks if you don't interfere). But lurking around the corner is the paranoia of the creative person and his or her middleman, wanting to control our experience, to have an exclusive lock on the art, and the first epiphany is totally spoiled. It's as if discovering the Garden of Eden, only to find that someone deliberately broke the septic system.

That's the experience of music on the Internet. And while the E-books thing hasn't taken off yet at a consumer level, the same thing will happen there. The loudmouths are going to spoil it for everyone. Instead of experiencing the full joy of reading unleashed for old eyes, and whatever other delights there are in reading digitally, we're going to have to explain, again, to the fatcat spoilers why they have no choice but to trust their users.

Clearly the book industry is next. So many closed paranoid business models. So little trust of users. Another round of lawsuits, bumping up against the inevitable. Get the message, users are artists too. If you lock them out of their artistry, they will route around you.

Dave Winer

PS: LBO stands for Leveraged Buy Out, a popular financial technique of the 1980s where people would use the money of a company they were acquiring to acquire the company they were acquiring. If you want to really understand it, don't breathe while you're thinking about it. It's twisty!

PPS: TBL is Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of HTML and HTTP, the two basic technologies of the Web.

PPPS: Pov stands for Point Of View. It's such an important concept, and often overlooked. Instead of flaming or whining at someone try saying to yourself "That's just their point of view."

PPPPS: The solution to problem that DRM tries to solve is to charge flat monthly usage fees, and distribute the money proportionally to the creative people and their middlemen based on usage. In every market. It's the only model that works. Of course someone probably has a patent on it.

© Copyright 1994-2004 Dave Winer. Last update: 2/5/07; 10:50:05 AM Pacific. "There's no time like now."