Monday, 3 June 2013

The necessary #Tumblr #Yahoo post: why its worse than you think

Who is it who wanted Tumblr to juin Yahoo?  Certainly not the user of either site.
Okay before I even write I know what you think I think: Tumblr selling to Yahoo! is terrible for Tumblr users.  Well duh?

Yahoo is the guy who is entering his fifth marriage to a woman he meet in rehab who is half his age.  Yahoo is the place that web site go to die.  Given that Internet users have minds of their own it hard to see how this will work, even if Yahoo manages somehow not to screw this one up, which would be a first, its hard to see the users sticking with Tumblr long enough to find out.  Yahoo reputation goes before it and in social networks it's the chaotic mass actions of crowds that have highly unpredictable impacts.  Unpredictable usually means catastrophic for the established players with poor track records.

Screaming Yahoo! in a social network will create a stampede of users out.  User are rational agents who have formed opinions often based on a wealth of previous experience.  After a certain point it is very hard for brands to revive themselves in a market where reputation and information is everything.

But really I could care less about Tumblr per say: its just another blogging social network tool.  So many have come and gone over the past 10 years its hard to get any emotion about one.  Personally I stopped using Tumblr for no other reason than I couldn't be bother about converting TIFFs to JPGs.

Yes, I am that jaded.

But the fact that Yahoo! could buy a successful new platform like this tells us something terrible about the Internet.

There are essentially two points of view about how the Internet could build freedom.  On the left wing their is the idea that the Internet gives citizens a cheap easy to use platform to promote democracy.  The mass ownership of social networks that are prepared to censor content automatically has killed this idea and the hope of an Internet that was managed via democratic means is long gone.

So we have the Internet as a business, for the most part having to be sustainable and profitable.  Thank goodness for Wikipedia and Linux, which still cling to the leftist utopia model of an emergent democratic internet, but for the most part the Internet is about venue flow.

On the right wing of the Internet are the libertarians have said that direct democracy was not necessary, because the Internet was a market and that users moving from platform to platform would have the same result, via the 'magic of the marketplace' that direct elections could have.  Free markets, the story goes, would create a free Internet.

People have pointed to protest movements use of Facebook and Twitter as evidence of this, and frankly something has to be said for it.  Users are not dumb machines, they are not the play things of corporate strategies and even in a fully commodity based platform like Facebook users have found ways to express a wide range of opinions.

But the core idea of the libertarian movement is that the Internet is a market place.

Yahoo! buying Tumblr shows that this is not even true.

If the Internet was a real market, with free entry and 'creative destruction' taking place Yahoo! would not only NOT be buying Tumblr it would have been driven out of business years ago by more agile effective players.  And yet this catastrophic company, perhaps the worst run major company in the US since Enron (I don't say that lightly) has managed to buy one of the most popular and dynamic new blogging and networking platforms.

This is NOT free market capitalism.

The Internet is a more disturbing concentration of power than most anyone is thinking.

The Internet seems to be more like a feudal system before industrialisation.  Revenue comes via ad views, which are controlled by ownership of the platforms.  The users create all the value by publishing content to platforms like YouTube and Facebook, but Google and Facebook make the money as a kind of rent they establish by control of this.

It is important to compare this to Wikipedia which funds via donations.  Wikipedia is capable of an emergent democratic process where users can raise issues, and admins can be convinced to change.  In the years I have worked, modestly, with Wikipedia I have seen major changes in the way power is daily used and shared.

But that is not the norm.

The norm is massive companies too big to fail which dominate more and more of the platforms making profits for their investors.

The Internet is looking more and more like the banking sector.

So what chance freedom?

I will come out and say it, the only opportunity most users have of establishing freedom on the emerging corporate web is being bitches: ignoring rules and working to subvert the system to work in ways that serve their interests.  This seems to be the fate of resistance in consumer society.

But the idea that the Internet would function like a high school was not the promise that motivated me back in 1989.

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