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Predictions

by Mike Masnick




How Jealousy Could Destroy The Internet

from the irrational-decision-making dept

Jealousy is a very powerful emotion. It can make for some great stories in books or movies, but it has no place in the board room -- yet, that's where it is these days. Fred Wilson pointed this out quite clearly last week, when he correctly said that all this talk by the Baby Bells that Google, Microsoft, Vonage and other successful web companies should pay the telcos extra was simple jealousy. Wilson tells the Bells to "dream on," and while we hope he's right, he may be underestimating the destructive power of jealousy. And, it's not just the Baby Bells who are acting this way -- but plenty of online businesses. If they keep it up, they're going to destroy a good thing, just because they can't stand the thought of someone else being successful.

We first mentioned this idea almost exactly a year ago, when a bunch of bloggers started complaining about others making their sites more accessible. The complaint was that these other sites were "profiting" from the work of others -- but that's not true. They were profiting from making the work of others more useful. Just as Google and the others made SBC AT&T's DSL lines valuable, getting angry over someone making your product more valuable is all about jealousy. There's this weird belief that no one else should be allowed to profit from anything you do -- even if that profit is from adding value to it, often in ways that add value to you as well. It's why we hear stories about big companies freaking out over sites that drive more traffic and interest in their services or who aggregate your content in ways you don't like. In many cases, it may be legally correct to make these moves -- but that doesn't mean it makes business sense. Very often, the opposite is true.

Considering the powerful position Google has these days online, it's no surprise that Google is often at the center of this jealousy. It's the main company the Baby Bells want to pay up. It also explains the Google Print controversy -- as authors and book publishers are upset, even though Google is making their content more useful by making it searchable. The latest case of Google jealousy comes courtesy of online publishers, with a Business Week writer suggesting the idea of having major publishers completely cut their content off from Google. It is, as the cliche goes, cutting off your nose to spite your face. People are so upset that Google is successful, they don't seem to notice that it's helped make them more successful too. Google is successful because it's adding value, not just for users, but to the sites it directs its traffic. Cutting Google off makes the content less useful and serves no purpose other than giving in to destructive jealousy. Part of the power of the internet is that it has been able to avoid most of this, by making it easy to link, embed, modify and copy -- to offer new and different ways to manipulate and view the information that's out there. It's that openness that makes the whole thing valuable. Throwing up walls, tollbooths and blockades for the sake of jealousy harms the entire system. Those who support these moves claim they do so to try to maximize their own profit -- trying to take a piece of the cut from these other services that make their product valuable. However, that's a short-sighted view. If they want to do that, they should make their products more valuable on their own without cutting off others. The "profit" they believe they're maximizing, they're actually shrinking by cutting off the added value that others provide. The more this jealousy continues, the more harm it does to the overall value presented by the internet.


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  1. identicon
    Chris Lindquist, 13 Jan 2006 @ 1:18pm

    Re: greed, not jealousy

    Scary indeed. But I don't think anyone would be surprised if the telcos try to extract some extra revenue from all those bits floating around the network. Who's going to stop them? And maybe nobody should try.

    If the telcos start charging extra fees or throttling popular sites or cutting big sites off completely, it will undoubtedly drive competition in other broadband areas--wireless, satellite, heck, maybe even broadband over powerline or broadband over gas pipes would become viable.

    Right now, I have two broadband options available, and both want to tie me into a bunch of other services I'd rather not buy. Throw my gas company, power company, and a local wireless ISP into the mix, though, and I'd suddenly gain a little leverage.


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