November 29, 2009
No names, no links: Writers give themselves a pass and denounce the “information wants to be free” crowd

Mark Cuban: Rupert Murdoch to Block Google = Smart

I love to tweak all the internet information must be free bigots. They get so damn religious about information on the net that they lose what little objectivity and awareness of the real world they had in the first place

Wherever it’s found, bigotry deserves to be called out— say, with a link?  Plus, tweaking people you ID is funner, Mark. They can answer back and the party’s on!

eweek, When Legal Strikes—Chaos Theory Meets DRM

While theres a certain infantile, self-serving view (common among the information-wants-to-be-free crowd) that just about anything one might want to do with others intellectual property is covered by fair use, the law bends pretty effectively to codify what Grant says the majority intuitively knows to be right.

Infantile and self-serving both? Juicy! Got a name?

Jeff Bercovici, Daily Finance

The conventional wisdom on whether and how newspapers ought to charge for their online content is changing so rapidly, some people are having trouble keeping up. One of those people is Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz, who Monday repeated one of the favored fallacies of the information-must-be-free crowd: that publications that try to squeeze some cash out of readers, however delicately, risk losing their audiences.

Actually, the crowd Kurtz was talking about is people who won’t patronize pay sites; that’s not a fallacy, it’s just… what they do. And if you charge your traffic goes down. That’s not a delusion of the nameless crowd you prefer to argue with but a well established fact of life on the open web.

Douglas Rushkoff in the Daily Beast

Discussions between Microsoft and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. for a structure where the former’s search engine (Bing) would pay for exclusive rights to the latter’s content (Wall Street Journal, Fox, etc.) has proven instantly upsetting to the self-appointed defenders of a “free” Internet. The simple reason: it might just work…

Of course, the information-wants-to-be-free troops are already up in arms. Some welcome what they see as the extinction of both evil empires in an ill-conceived death grip that will push Fox News and the Wall Street Journal off the mainstream map. Others see it as a last-gasp effort by “old media” to resist the unstoppable, Google-driven evolution of an entirely free content universe. They see searchability by Google as equivalent to participation in democratic society—and any resistance to offering up one’s content to exploitation by Google Inc. as resistance to the natural openness of interactive media and bottom-up civilization.

Doug: this is the web. You know… “featuring hypertext?” Can’t we visit the troops ourselves?

Ken Davis, moderator of the Chicago Journalism Town Hall

Eventually even the “information wants to be free” crowd, a little greyer and sobered by mortgages and tuition bills, will come around to, and benefit from, a sane payment methodology.

Do “crowds” grow up? Seems to be what you are saying.

Jason Wilson,

Some of the people in the “information wants to be free” crowd, who say News can’t do it, make some unwarranted assumptions.

First, they assume that News will only enclose the newpaper content that it currently gives away, and that they will enclose all of it.

Second, they assume that there will always be a free equivalent to anything that News puts behind the wall, meaning that people won’t have any reason to pay for it.

Third, some seem to think that just because they don’t like something, that means there’s no market for it.

Fourth, they assume that no News journalists have skills, expertise or access that might be worth paying for.

And last, there seems to be a belief in some quarters that News Corporation is largely staffed by idiots.

Wowzer: that’s a lot of assumptions; they sound pretty specific, too. Like you read them somewhere…?

Martin Belam,

Malcom Coles yesterday wrote a great blog post looking at ways that News International could succeed in monetising their content. I think it addresses a lot of issues and niche content that does exist, that the naysayers of the ‘information wants to be free’ crowd tend to sweep under the carpet as it doesn’t fit with their argument.

Wait: there’s a big ass crowd of folks who say you can’t charge for niche content? Really?

Michael Becker at Hypercrit: Set the good stuff free and charge for the peas

The title of this post doesn’t make a lot of sense until you read an inter­est­ing post by Lucas Grindley, the online man­ag­ing edi­tor for Grindley’s respond­ing to the revived idea of charg­ing for news con­tent online, an idea that’s stuck in the craw of many “infor­ma­tion wants to be free” advocates.

Craw-stuck-upmanship can be bales of fun to observe. May we have a link please?, Twitter Gurus Please Stop Whining!

Remember how the first generation of bloggers howled when the 2nd and 3rd generation of bloggers started including advertisements on their blogs? And, even before that, how the “information wants to be free” crowd rebelled against commercialization of the Web? And in the middle 1990’s, Internet purists even objected to the addition of images on web pages!

Well, we all know how that turned out…

Purist gurus howling and whining… Aw, hook us up! We’d pay to see that.


Newsweek comments on Tumblr: “Agreed. It’s lazy journalism to make charges against some vaguely-defined enemy; better always to give specific examples and back them up. That hyperlink tool is there for a reason; use it.”

Jeff Jarvis on Twitter: “Here I specifically declare myself not a member of the information-wants-to-be-free crowd.”

Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton, part of Murdoch’s News Corp, doesn’t care what Jarvis says about his own beliefs. Hinton knows better. “The blogosphere has an explanation, if not a justification, for what’s transpired. The world has changed utterly, they type. The mainstream media doesn’t understand it. It’s the inevitability of the Internet. Or as Jeff Jarvis, one of the leading proponents of the information-must-be-free imperative puts it: The content economy is over…” More from Mr. Hinton:

Let’s not forget the basic economics: The rates on our ad cards increase when there is less competition, not more. There is something else fundamental at work here. Implicit in the false gospel of the Web is the faith that free is superior. And those who dare think otherwise are heretics and fools

Chris Anderson, editor of Wired and author of Free: The Future of a Radical Price, on Twitter: “Even Stewart Brand didn’t argue that ‘information wants to be free’ the way those critics put it. Nor do I. It’s a straw man.”

John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says on Twitter: “If they wish to denounce someone from the info-wants-to-be-free crowd, kindly remind them of me.”  Will do, John!

Bill Keller, editor of the New York Times, is an honorary member of this club: A lot of people in the news business, myself included, don’t buy as a matter of theology that information “wants to be free.” Really good information, often extracted from reluctant sources, truth-tested, organized and explained — that stuff wants to be paid for.”

Think Keller knows that the same guy who originally said “information wants to be free” (Stewart Brand) also said “information wants to be paid for?”

Also an honorary member, Walter Isaacson, the former editor of Time Magazine, who wrote: “One of history’s ironies is that hypertext — an embedded Web link that refers you to another page or site — had been invented by Ted Nelson in the early 1960s with the goal of enabling micropayments for content. He wanted to make sure that the people who created good stuff got rewarded for it. In his vision, all links on a page would facilitate the accrual of small, automatic payments for whatever content was accessed. Instead, the Web got caught up in the ethos that information wants to be free. Others smarter than we were had avoided that trap.”

For some sanity—with history and links—on the subject of what users will and will not pay for see Jack Shafer in Slate, Not all Information Wants to be Free. His analysis is sound. But even he cannot resist a nameless, linkless, risk-free shot at the true believers: “The idea that people won’t pay for content online has become such a part of the Web orthodoxy that New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller risked getting lynched earlier this month for merely musing about paid models for the online editions of his paper.”

Brian Cubbison reviews the action around this post.  “When print pundits write about the IWTBF crowd, they really mean, or think they mean, Jay Rosen and Jeff Jarvis.”

At Techdirt, a site that has battled the underhanded tactics on view in this post, one of Mike Masdick’s commenters, Marcus Carab, puts it well..

The statement about information wanting to be free was never intended as a moral assessment in the way it’s being taken now… it was a description of the undeniable nature of information: that it spreads without lessening itself, and that it cannot be “unlearned”.

So the statement “information wants to be free” should be read the same way one would read “water wants to flow down hill” - as an observation of the situation, not an opinion about it.

My italics.

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