Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Scott Adams Is Wrong About Content

The Adams Theory of Content Value: As our ability to search for media content improves, the economic value of that content will approach zero.

This is ridiculous.

Start here:

As our ability to search for media content improves

This unproven assumption sees not one attempt at verification or demonstration at any point in Adams's post. If you've been using Google since its early days, you can think of at least one counter-example to Adams's blind, unvalidated, example-less optimism: search has gotten much, much worse. Spamblogs did not exist before Google; Google prioritized blogs over other content, imposing the Californian imperial agenda on the Web, and for this reason, Google bears a large part of the responsibility for bringing spamblogs into the world. If you search for "ipad wallpapers", Google will try to steer you to iPod wallpapers. If you search for exact programming terms involving punctuation on Google, terms like the Perl special variable $', you're fucked; even telling Google to match your search term exactly will not cause it to match your search term exactly. Finding good information about technical material online requires more pre-existing expertise than it did just five years ago.

Another flaw with Adams's argument is that the price of content has been going up. I myself sell internet marketing videos for $197. As for the people who taught me how to do it, they sell for way more than that. This is an ongoing economic trend which began in the early 20th century, chugged along, growing slowly, and then suddenly skyrocketed in recent years with ebooks and videos online. (It also saw a smaller boom at the advent of desktop publishing.) Without the Internet, the number of information marketers would be much smaller, and the money they make would be smaller too.

Likewise, Apple's made loads of money off me by selling me an iPad and then reminding me I can buy videos to watch or music to listen to; I've even bought music from iTunes that I already had on pirated mp3s locked up in some dusty old USB hard drive, because I didn't want to deal with figuring out how to sync it to my modern computers, transferring it over to my media drive, and putting it on my iPad.

Adams says:

Now comes the iPad, which is destined to become primarily a criminal tool, and it will cause a change in society the same way that widespread illegal boozing caused a change in Prohibition laws.

This is one hell of a bold pronouncement, and it wanders into the spotlight of Adams's post without a shred of supporting evidence. It's easy to see that Adams means you can throw pirated video and music on there, but I buy way more stuff on the iTunes Store than ever before since buying my iPad, and I suspect the same is true for other people as well. Using iTunes on my computer is a heinous pain in the ass; using it on the iPad is an effortless dream. From where I'm sitting it looks like all Apple's best engineers worked on iTunes for the iPad, and all Apple's other engineers worked on iTunes for the Mac and PC. iTunes on a computer is almost so bad Microsoft could have made it. Why would I get up off my comfortable sofa, plug in my media drive, and sit through the agony of syncing a song to my iPad, after searching for it, and in some cases making multiple downloads (since pirated mp3s are often crappy and/or mislabelled), when I can just buy it for less than a dollar with a single click?

That sentence was way overkill; all you really need is the first phrase: why would I get up off my comfortable sofa?

Take my critical tone with a grain of salt. I like reading Dilbert, and I use Google everyday. But this mid-1990s Wired magazine bullshit flies in the face of how I make my living. The online futurist community has a giant blind spot to unprestigious uses of technology; they can see the demise of newspapers, but not the rise of information marketers, because journalism is prestigious, and ebooks on teaching your parrot to talk are not. If this blind spot disappeared, Scott Adams would see the massive industry that thwarts his thesis. How he missed the reality of the iPad, though, I don't know.