A Reminder Of Why We Shouldn't Write Off New Business Models Too Early

from the a-look-back dept

Every so often someone pulls out Cliff Stoll's infamous Newsweek piece from 1995, in which he trashes the internet and mocks the claims people make about it -- nearly all of which came true:
How about electronic publishing? Try reading a book on disc. At best, it's an unpleasant chore: the myopic glow of a clunky computer replaces the friendly pages of a book. And you can't tote that laptop to the beach. Yet Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we'll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Intenet. Uh, sure.
I'm reminded of this thanks to Shocklee posting a link to it -- even though I've seen it many, many times before. The last time this article got passed around, it finally resulted in Stoll issuing a mea culpa of sorts, admitting he got it wrong. Newsweek, itself, has also sorta kinda published an apology/non-apology for the piece as well. I do wonder if the likes of Jaron Lanier and other internet pessimists will end up being forced to do the same in another fifteen years as well.

But the point of this post isn't to mock Stoll's bad predictions, but to note that this kind of thinking was hardly unique to Stoll at the time. It was, in fact, quite common -- and still is in some circles. But in rereading Stoll's article, I'm reminded of the naysayers we see around here pretty regularly, complaining about how these new business models we talk about can never work, or that they only work for the few "exceptions" at the margin.

They point out that "only" 30,000 music acts are making a living and snicker, as if that's proof that new models don't work. And, yet, in 1995, folks like Stoll could snicker at the idea of books being sold online. Later he mocks the idea that anyone would get involved in politics online, or buy an airline ticket online. That was only fifteen years ago. The internet enables amazing things, and it does so much faster than people believe, but it doesn't happen instantly. But ignoring basic trend lines and recognizing how technology progresses is only going to serve to make people look foolish down the road.


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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 12th, 2010 @ 1:03am

    On the other hand those people who predict everything they don't understand will be a revolution for the way people live never have to apologize for getting it wrong - there's so many of them that it's not worth noticing.

    You can try to predict the future and fail more than you are correct, or you can be a sheep and just not try.

     

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      Felix Pleșoianu, Nov 12th, 2010 @ 1:26am

      Re:

      OR, you could do it in the only way that's proven to work: by plotting past trends on a graph and seeing which way they point. Moore's law was discovered that way, and it held true for an impressive number of decades. Ray Kurzweil also got quite a few predictions right.

      Besides, we praise people who try and fail, while we scorn people who don't even try, though the end result is the same. Why not treat predictions similarly?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 12th, 2010 @ 1:38am

    Rather pessimistic?

    You can try to predict the future and fail more than you are correct, or you can be a sheep and just not try.
    Sort of true - as far as it goes - but in general you are better off betting on human inginuity than "it'll never happen". Human's are designed for exploration and invention and "doing the impossible".

    Predicting things will "revolutionise" life is often a bit fanciful I'll grant you. Life has it's own way of deciding what will change things and what won't. But that doesn't mean the predicting that "in the future we will be able to do X" isn't valid. Even if you're wrong, sometimes the idea in the right place inspires people to create something like it.

    .....but to note that this kind of thinking was hardly unique to Stoll at the time. It was, in fact, quite common -- and still is in some circles
    True enough that it's become anecdotal. I've often heard the phrase "Yeah, this internet thing is just a fad" used sarcastically in techy circles following an online implementation that was doubted by the business.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 12th, 2010 @ 3:11am

      Re: Rather pessimistic?

      "Human's are designed for.."
      If you get religion you will never understand anything.

       

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        Jason, Nov 12th, 2010 @ 10:02am

        Re: Re: Rather pessimistic?

        ...said the chief priest of the Sacred Order of the Pretending Not to Be Religious.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Nov 12th, 2010 @ 3:30pm

          Re: Re: Re: Rather pessimistic?

          Sacred Order of the Pretending Not to Be Religious.
          Oooo is that like the Masons? Except I point blank refuse to roll up 1 trouser leg, that's just silly :-) Other than that hmm dunno does "satanist" count? If I were going to be religious that's what I'd probably go for... the rituals seem a lot more fun than most cu.. erm religions. Or paganism? At least I'd get the festival dates "right" then.

           

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    willbates (profile), Nov 12th, 2010 @ 2:17am

    The trick

    This is the trick for entrepreneurs, having the vision for other ways to do things and monetising them. Stoll clearly made a big mistake, mainly through lack of vision.

     

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    Andreas (profile), Nov 12th, 2010 @ 2:32am

    It is the counterweight for the Science-Fictionesque descriptions of utopians. But and try to find the right balance between the two extreme standpoints, quite a task.

     

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    God, Nov 12th, 2010 @ 3:44am

    The internet trumps everything that has ever occurred before in the history of man.

    Why don't you people grasp this obvious reality?

    Submit to whatever the internet decries. Resistance is futile.

    We will dictate what everyone does.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 12th, 2010 @ 3:46am

    If you get religion you will never understand anything. :-) A limited faith in the overall forward reaching of the race even in the face of parts of it trying to destroy itself is about as far as my faith goes. I didn't say designed *how*, did I? I'm simply saying that discovery, invention and "what's over that next hill" mentality is at the core of why we are the dominant life form on the planet (well, except maybe mice and dolphins....). Whether that's a good thing is another argument.

     

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    Anonymous Howard, Cowering, Nov 12th, 2010 @ 3:57am

    @6. God

    Dear God,

    Please consult a dictionary before employing polysyllabic pontification; in this specific instance, "decries."

    It does not mean what you seem to believe it means.

    Thanks, and have a glorious day!

    AH,C

     

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    Justin, Nov 12th, 2010 @ 4:02am

    At this point I can't believe that people either (a) don't believe in or (b) fight back against the internet. Then again, people's resistance keeps guys like Umair working.

     

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    out_of_the_blue, Nov 12th, 2010 @ 4:46am

    SOON? "we'll soon buy ... newspapers straight over the Intenet"

    When will this occur, when you harp on your notion that Murdoch's attempt to get people to *BUY* is DOOMED to fail?

    As for books, no, a few weenies buy the toy readers (and pay high prices for data bits that they'll never own), but even that's nothing to do with the internet as such: it's the HARDWARE that's now available. It's possible to walk into a store to get a wired connection for the data, anyway.

    And again with this context-less number! -- "30,000 music acts are making a living" -- How many existed before, and how does "teh internets" directly enable them now?

     

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      DH's Love Child (profile), Nov 12th, 2010 @ 5:11am

      Re: SOON? "we'll soon buy ... newspapers straight over the Intenet"

      Really? You're rant is focused on the word BUY?

      I own one of those "toy" readers (complete aside, please define a "real" reader, will you?), and I have 'bought' several (well over 100) titles for it at the tidy sum of $0.00.

      Your second paragraph is so far off as to be laughable. Do you think for one minute that if the internet didn't exist the market for those "toy" readers would have had anywhere near the success they have had?

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 12th, 2010 @ 5:39am

      Re: SOON? "we'll soon buy ... newspapers straight over the Intenet"

      It's possible to walk into a store to get a wired connection for the data, anyway.
      Perhaps you'd like to explain how "a wired connection for the data " in a store is not "the internet" and has nothing to do with it?
      And again with this context-less number! -- "30,000 music acts are making a living" -- How many existed before, and how does "teh internets" directly enable them now?
      The title of the original article was 30,000 Musical Acts Are Making A Living... But Is That Good Or Bad?. I think if you actually read it you'll find that the claim came from the industry and the lack of context was theirs, so you kind of shot yourself in the foot with that one.

       

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      btrussell (profile), Nov 12th, 2010 @ 7:14am

      Re: SOON? "we'll soon buy ... newspapers straight over the Intenet"

      "... and how does "teh internets" directly enable them now?"
      http://www.jeromegodboo.com/Music/Alive/index.cfm

      Great band I used to listen to. I may have to replenish my collection. Someone stole these from me (meaning my tape is gone).

       

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    out_of_the_blue, Nov 12th, 2010 @ 4:49am

    PS ^^^ "Intenet" is *as* copied.

    Geeks hold that computers enable wonders, but the spelling gets worse.

     

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    Tom The Toe, Nov 12th, 2010 @ 5:31am

    Re:God

    He probably meant descry,(to see something unclear or distant by looking carefully; discern)

     

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    Anonymous Howard, Cowering, Nov 12th, 2010 @ 8:57am

    Re: #14 Re: #6 God

    "Descry' is possible, but slightly obscure for a Techdirt rant; "decrees" may be more in line with the "dictates" used later.

    Usually the Trolls (capitalized, just in case He really is God) stick with the simple misspellings.

     

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    Rick Louie, Nov 12th, 2010 @ 10:03am

    It's amazing how exactly wrong he is. It leads me to believe some really serious thought went into it.

     

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    periphera, Nov 12th, 2010 @ 7:09pm

    Best quote from Bill Gates

    My favorite Gates quote: "We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten."

    There are a lot of other things you can say about the guy, but that's dead on.

     

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