How the Traditional Publishing Complex Tamed the Mob … and What Outsiders Could Learn from Justine Musk

So far, the Internet has only experienced one major crash: The very poorly named “Dot Com” crash of 2001. This had nothing to do with the “dot com” top-level domain per se. It had much more to do with a much more general and very much premature hyping of all things Internet — and then when it became clear that 9 out of 10 ideas were hare-brained, 9 out of 10 online business models went out of business. Note, however, that by this time the Internet had already become — or at the very least it had started to become — a force to be reckoned with. This was the first heyday of bloggers and wikis — for example, consider what happened when Trent Lott spoke on December 5, 2002 at the 100th birthday party of Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina:

In the wake of controversy, Lott resigned as Senate Republican Leader on December 20, 2002, effective at the start of the next session, January 3, 2003. Bill Frist of Tennessee was later elected to the leadership position. In the book Free Culture, Lawrence Lessig argues that Lott’s resignation would not have occurred had it not been for the effect of Internet blogs. He says that though the story “disappear[ed] from the mainstream press within forty-eight hours”, “bloggers kept researching the story” until, “finally, the story broke back into the mainstream press.

By the time Digg was founded in 2004, it had become very clear to the traditional publishing industry that something was afoot: their business was eroding from beneath — and if something didn’t happen quite soon, then the traditional publishing industry would be gone in short shrift.

Note that the traditional publishing industry had been a crucial element in many advanced economies worldwide, strongly influencing education, research, propaganda and much, much more. If this were to simply crumble and break overnight, a much larger traditional publishing complex would probably go down with it — and therefore many people were very worried. Some more examples of this worrisome trend included many new websites created around a “classified advertising” model (such as craigslist), and Google’s then-still-new AdWords system.

Then, some time around 2006, things began to change. Perhaps the most indicative instance of how things were changing was the “Google Press Day” event held on May 10, 2006 (Google has since removed links to the documentation it had disclosed about these presentations from its website). Although this event was not widely covered by the press, it was attended by many leaders in the publishing industry. Google officers explained their business model, and how they were tweaking their algorithms so that searches for terms such as “credit card” would be made to return search engine results pages (SERPs) with the brand names of companies doing business in that market segment. All in all, Google seemed to be making a case for mutual collaboration with the traditional publishing complex, rather than competing with it.

Since then, many other websites are using a similar approach — and most prominent among this new model of “co-opetition” is, of course: Facebook. Yet large parts of the so-called “mobile web” are also very much about advertising to users, and also tracking user behavior. Google, Facebook & Co. had now become transformed from a “Wild West” marketplace into a partner that more and more members of the traditional publishing complex could work with quite well — and thereby increasingly publish traditional publishing stories in a newfangled way… called “social media“.

The advantage of this new approach for members of the traditional media complex is that they no longer need to compete with the revolutionary mobs found in the innumerable and uncontrolled spaces on the “Wild West Web”. Google, Facebook, Twitter, et. al. would reduce such “unknown” people into insignificance, and instead promote those brands which the entire traditional publishing complex have come to rely on. Although many people will probably not recognize the similarity to the way some North African governments collaborated with North African Internet service providers to basically “turn off the Internet” in North Africa during the Arab Spring, the leading brand names operating in the “social media” space can very effectively squelch out any message that is in opposition to the messages advertisers seek to get across.

If you are not an advertiser, not a publisher, not a member of the traditional publishing complex,… — if you are not affiliated with this industry in any way, then what can you do (if you want to be heard)?

Some people may choose to go out on the streets and protest, but others may find that to be a nuisance… — or at least a rather ineffective alternative. Also: It is not clear whether the best solutions are to be found by figuring out which group can shout the loudest. What if your aim is to find solutions to problems through rational thought?

Beyond polishing up rational thinking skills, such outsiders might also need to brush up on literacy skills — especially those literacy skills that are not taught in most educational systems: The ability to effectively express and also to publish your own ideas in a manner that will enable readers who are thirsty for enlightenment to easily grasp the useful and practical advice such information can provide.

One of my favorite leaders in this field is Justine Musk — not necessarily because of the topics she writes about, but primarily because of her great skill in doing so. Justine has a knack for explaining topics in a very simple and straightforward manner — and these are topics her readers are very thirsty to read more about. Her arguments are usually well thought out, and therefore they are usually also very compelling.

I have not read any of Justine’s fiction-writing, but in my opinion most of her non-fiction writing campaigns are very successful.

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