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<nettime> paradigm shift ?
felipe rodriquez on Tue, 13 Jan 2004 23:19:22 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> paradigm shift ?



I have this image forming in my mind about a cultural change through 
the Internet. Its about a community that becomes increasingly vocal, 
creative and constructive. Feel free to share it with others.

I have observed the Internet since 1989 and loved it myself for its 
potential. That drove me to start my company in '93. I've been 
virtually full-time immersed in the Internet since ~1991. I like it 
because of its community and because of the way people self organize to 
achieve a common goal. I have participated in many communities and 
usually loved it. In many ways it is human evolution into a very 
different future world, society and the international community will 
change, has changed, because of it. National boundaries start 
dissolving, some traditional legislation can no longer be enforced, new 
international subcultures form, communication can not be controlled, 
the media have a harder time fooling us et cetera. This has already 
happened.

Spontaneous self organization of people is what created the Internet. 
Before it became commercial it drove on academics who donated their 
time to participate in programming projects to develop the technology. 
The Internet was created by the people, not by a business. The US 
government funded the actual hardware network, but the software was 
mostly a community effort.

As the Internet is growing it is becoming more obvious what shape these 
initiatives are taking. There is a huge Open Source community that 
develops software that is free. That is where Linux, Darwin, FreeBSD et 
cetera come from. A clone for Microsoft Office was also created in that 
community, and a Microsoft emulator for Linux has been in development 
since 1993. The best anti-spam software also comes from it, the world 
wide web too, email too et cetera

Now these little communities move into other areas. I am very impressed 
by the Wikipedia project at www.wikipedia.org This is an online 
encyclopedia by the people for the people. It is completely free and 
operates on a shoestring.

People are opening their wireless connection for the community. With 
long range wireless like 802.16 people will start community networks, 
bypassing commercial companies. It will be like HAM Radio for the 
masses.

Who knows what happens next. In this world when there is a group of 
people that want something, there is a common goal, and they are 
online, then it simply happens. Geographical location is not that 
important anymore. The way we experience the world is undergoing 
tremendous changes and this causes friction. Governments have already 
had their anxiety and tried to do something about it by setting up 
censorship, surveillance and anti-spam legislation. The censorship laws 
had no effect at all, the Internet routes around it.

Not all fish know how to swim in this pond, it causes a culture clash 
for many people and companies.

Microsoft is wetting their pants because of their angst of the Open 
Source community. Free software is quickly catching up with the 
sophistication of Microsoft. Office has already been replicated.

The reason Microsoft is scared is not just because the competing 
products are catching up fast, it is also because Microsoft is 
increasingly under attack from hackers and virus writers. This has been 
going on for years, but now we're at a point that viruses come in by 
Email every day. Security has never been Microsoft's forte.

In the old days when I was a hacker the main problem was that suppliers 
would ship their unix mainframes with insecure settings. As a 
consequence it would be trivial to gain access and get superuser 
privileges. Most unix platforms that are shipped these days are 
watertight. Microsoft has a long road to go to match that kind of 
security, and many monsters lurk on that road to try and derail 
Microsoft.

Microsoft has a classic problem. Many companies and managers become 
very defensive when there is a threat. They fight tooth and nail to 
defeat the threat. This becomes a problem when the threat is the 
community at large. It is the same mistake Scientology made and is 
continuing to make. The Music industry is in this space too. So is SCO. 
Business-models will need to change in order to survive. Embracing the 
community is survival, coercion, legal battles against many 
individuals, aggression and incompetence are certain death.

Microsoft has always dealt with threats successfully. Most competitors 
have been wiped out. But can they win the sympathy of the community ? 
Can they transform themselves into a pink, warm and cuddly company ? 
Will they cooperate with the community to make a better product ? What 
other companies are adapting poorly ?

Examples of companies that are doing this well are IBM, Apple, Cisco, 
most Linux companies, Adobe. You can usually see by finding out if the 
company provides an open online forum where products and problems can 
be publicly discussed. For some reason many people and companies have a 
natural tendency to not accept these kinds of feedback systems because 
they easily feel threatened, they do not want their customers to 
organize themselves. But it makes economic sense to listen to customers 
and give them what they need, instead of being scared of the customer.

These are dilemmas many companies face. The world has changed much, is 
always changing. Old habits die hard. In some cases the old habit will 
kill the culprit. Darwinian evolution kicks in and takes out the 
elements that do not work. Some companies will die or become obsolete, 
others will mushroom. The trick will be identifying them. Which 
companies will understand that it is better to ride the wave than to 
swim against the stream ?

Don't invest in Encyclopedia companies :-)

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