Sunday, March 23, 2008

Digital Sharecropping (and why Nicholas Carr is one of the real voices of web 2.0)

Nick Carr One of the few people who have written in support of British folk-punk musician Billy Bragg's op-ed piece in the New York Times, Mr. Bragg writes about how the owners of social networking site Bebo stand to pocket more than $600 million (out of $850 million sale value) after Bebo's sale to AOL goes through - without having to pay any royalty or other forms of incentive to the artists who helped make Bebo popular.

Some so-called web 2.0 experts of this world have rallied against Mr. Bragg's assertion, saying social networking like Bebo, Myspace, Facebook and others provide a huge platform to these artists, which is bigger and more engaging than Radio or TV - but, both Radio and TV pay musicians royalties for playing their music.

Come to think of it, I have a hunch that owners of social networking sites consider artists who post their music no different than how Google considers the new blogger - provider of free, long-tail content. Just like new blogger can't straightaway become a Seth Godin or a Nick Carr, the site owners do not think much about the artists because noone becomes Nine Inch Nails or Radiohead straightaway. Much is being made about how Radiohead changed the music distribution model, but would they been able to do that if they were new on the scene and not some 14 year old rock band?

For owners of social networking sites, creative people are fodder for growth, these owners are the new band promoters, someone who lets the creative- types do their promotion while the band promoters make money by selling the whole site itself.

The so-called web 2.0 experts point out that the artists had the option of posting their music and videos on other sites as well.

How convenient - in many cases, it is because of the artists that sites like Bebo and Myspace became famous, attracting other users and other artists - it is not a coincidence that Bebo is considered the TV channel version of social networking sites.

Comparing musicians who join social networking sites when these sites are still new and traffic is non-existent, to investors, Mr. Bragg says these artists should get a dividend when the site makes money.

If people think Mr. Bragg is wrong in saying what many have been saying private, then I think time has come to put an end to this entire web 2.0 charade. If people think Mr. Bragg is wrong to call for a share in web 2.0 sale profits, the participatory web is all about how smart people in the Silicon Valley are taking everyone for a ride.

When some so-called web 2.0 experts get righteous and respond to Mr. Bragg’s assertion by invoking the non-existent web 2.0 ethos, it is pukeworthy - you can be sure these web 2.0 experts are playing to their gallery of 250 other experts, sounding noble and all.

The reality is Web 2.0 experts have a stake in the continuance of the status quo in the web 2.0 field and if you want for an objective view on the topic, read stuff from people like Nick Carr.

However, if you want to start a me-too web 2.0 startup, read Techcrunch from A-to-Z, suck up to the site's owner, comment as many times as you can, and you are in the business.

Sites like Techcrunch cover web 2.0 startups - it is in their interest not to write about "digital sharecropping" - they would not want to annoy the cash rich founders and those 125 pixel ads, do they?

When Digg sells, I would like to hope that the Kevin Rose shares the money with his band of avid early Diggers, who are both the cause for the rise (and detirioration) of the social news sites.

In the words of Nick Carr, "Digital sharecroppers of the world, unite!"

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