Bill Hicks

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I may be alone in thinking that Microsoft’s offers for Yahoo were all mistakes. All were too much to pay for a company that would be hollow on Day Two. But don’t get the idea that I care all that much. I don’t.

On the Gillmor Gang (where I am also a participant at the moment) Dan Farber just called online advertising “the most efficient way to make money in the world right now”. That might be true. But advertising itself is a bubble in the long run, because it’s guesswork even at its best, and making it better and better only improves a system that has been flawed fundamentally from the start, because it proceeds only from the sell side, and still involves enormous waste (of server cycles, of bandwidth, of pixels, rods, cones and patience).

Advertising is a big churning system by which sellers hunt down buyers, rather than the reverse. It pollutes the media environment and theatens to corrupt the producers it pays.

I could go on. Or I could just point to Bill Hicks’ wisdom on the matter. Bill goes way over the top in that routine, but he’s talking to your soul, not to your wallet. It’s important to pull them apart once in awhile.

Yes, I know some advertising is good. A lot of it, in fact. But I’m not talking about that advertising. I’m talking about the 99+ percent of it that’s wasted.

I’m sure few at Google, Microsoft, Yahoo or Facebook (or TechCrunch, or pretty much anywhere that makes money from advertising) agrees with much if anything of I just said. And I’d rather not argue it, because I don’t have evidence to prove my points. There still is no system by which demand takes the lead in driving (and not just finding) supply. But I believe that’ll happen eventually. And when it does, advertising will fall. Advertising is not a tree that grows to the sky, no matter how fast the Google redwood is gaining altitude.

But… I might be wrong. I dunno. It happens.

Mike Arrington just said on the Gang that he is “outraged” by something I said. I forget what it was. Some of the above, I guess.

Anyway, I don’t know what will happen to Yahoo or Microsoft. I am sure Google will still grow like crazy as long as advertising money flows from other media to the Web. But that’s not the whole story. What Google’s doing with Web services, with Android, with the Summer of Code, with Earth, Maps, Talk, Gmail, Docs… are mostly Net-friendly, cross-platform (including Linux) innovative and positive. They’re far from perfect, but not as far as Microsoft and Yahoo. That’s an advantage, if you’re into vendor sports. Which I’m not. (Well, a little, but not much.)

Who’s buying whom, who’s committing suicide by saying yes or no to acquisition offers, or the rest of the Stuff that’s front and center right now, kinda bores me. I care far more about the independence and empowerment of individual users, and of independent developers working to make a world where free markets are not “your choice of walled garden”. We don’t have that world yet. One walled gardener succeeding or failing to buy another doesn’t move us any closer.

What gets us closer will come from the edge. It’ll move under the feet of clashing giants.

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