Something wonderful happened when the Internet broke through a similar logjam in the early 90s. But that's now a distant memory. A new generation has come of age. The students I work with at NYU were small children when the Web grew out of the ruins of the PC business. They don't have any memory of what it was like before.
Further, the tech companies of today are much larger and more influential than the leading tech companies of the early 90s. Today the music industry's content flows through Apple's servers. Apple is poised to play a large role in the distribution of all other forms of media. Google is huge, as is Amazon and Facebook. And the people running these companies are far more experienced and/or competent than those who were running the industry the last time there was a user takeover.
My thinking has changed recently, as Google's moves with Buzz have surfaced, and Apple's moves to control sexual imagery in the the app store, as they embark on an ugly and dishonest campaign against Flash. Patents are nothing new. Last year, Google patented some very basic technology we created in the first wave of RSS apps. Another company was granted a patent on podcasting. It goes on all the time. What is different is that tech companies are taking a more active interest in the content that flows over their networks, and are doing less to protect their users. Sometimes they're the ones attacking users. Just like other industries.
Think about how you're treated by airlines. By insurance companies. If you have to go to a hospital. That's the kind of relationship you have with Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, etc. Sooner or later there will be a massive oil spill or a massive network-wide security breach. Expect these companies to be every bit as bad as the ones in other industries. Probably worse because they've come so far without much oversight or scrutiny. Recently Google was given permission to trade energy. Who are these companies? We have no idea.
If you want to know what you can do, great -- there are things you can do. Buy your own services and put your content in places where you are treated like a customer with rights that are respected. That's still possible. In many industries it's no longer possible, but you can get that kind of service on the Internet now, but you have to pay for it.
If you're in the media industry, stop partnering with the tech industry, and hire away some of their best people and give them power to run your business. This is how your boat will stay afloat. Pretending these companies are your friends is ridiculous. They don't care about you. Look at how well they're doing monetizing your content. This is probably what you need to learn to do, and there's no time to learn. Hire their people away and get ready to compete.
And when you have a choice between using the product of a small company or a large one, give the small one a chance. This helps protect choice and diversity. And if someone creates something new, and they are not working for a big company, celebrate that, make them famous, make sure everyone knows. The myth is that the only new stuff comes from big companies. That's never been true. The only way to change that is to make sure people hear about the new stuff that comes from individuals.