Latest Thing in Marketing: Media Popups

On Internet, the porn industry often is the technological leader when it comes to marketing.  This time, they came up with something new: porn popups. It takes advantage of a feature that is starting to show up in movie players such as Microsoft Media Player.  The feature allows a movie to contain instructions to open and display an embedded URL in a web browser when you view the movie.  Distribution typically starts with Usenet and the Web and relies on the Message is the Product marketing approach, meaning people will distribute it to others if the movie is enjoyable.

I don't know if others already have a name for this new marketing technology, but I am going to call it Media Popup for now.  It can be applied not only to movies, but to other popular media types such as music, games goods, and others.  If there aren't any MP3 players out there that does this already, I am sure there will be soon enough.

What Quiting Cigarettes Feels Like

Kevin Burton mused that not having a computer must be what quitting cigarettes feels like.  Well, it depends on whether you are quitting for the first time or the Nth time.  Last time I quit was January of this year as I welcomed my 40th year on this planet.  I quit smoking for 6 months.  I am back smoking knowing fully how bad smoking is.  Being a smoker is like being the guy in the movie Alien who had a baby Alien growing in his chest.  You just don't know when its going to 'say hello' face to face.  With supposedly 5% chance of success, quitting smoking at this point feels like taking Alka Seltzer to rid of the baby Alien.

My Response to Larry Lessig

This is my itemized response to Larry Lessig's comments about my post on OSAF. 

Before I begin, let me comment on Dave Winer's role in all this.  In the blogspace, it is difficult to get exposure because search engines like Google are not designed to keep pace with blogs.  Popular blogs like Dave's provide much needed exposures for eccentric hermits like me.  When he posted a juicy part of my post on OSAF, I knew he was just trying to give me exposure and nothing more.  I attributed his short comment to his open mind and not some hidden anti-open source agenda.  So all the Dave this and Dave that in respect to OSAF is uncalled for.  Besides, I don't like it when someone else receives what is rightfully mine, even if they are rotten tomatos. <g>

I don't see how anyone could on principle oppose having the source code for a program available.

This statement simply demonstrates naivete only a good-hearted person might have.  I would love to have Larry live next door, but I wouldn't be happy if he was my accountant.  Principles are like those cute Japanese characters with summarized body parts.  I like them but don't put them on my dinner table.  Unless a software publisher has compelling reasons to make source code available, it makes no sense to do so.  Source code is not something you fire and forget like a sidewinder.  You have to document it, support it, deal with changes, and monitor license abuses.  On principle, KFC should on have no opposition to selling raw chickens let alone their recipe.  On principle, Snow White and Seven Dwarves were just friends (hmm.  I wonder where this came from…).

If there were a way to assure coders — especially independent coders — got paid even though the source of their code was open, then it would be hard to oppose open code. And while it might seem odd to imagine how that is possible, we should recognize that our economy already has about a billion ways in which it secures payment to creators without locking up the creativity. Some of those would be bad (moving music back to the patronage system, for example); but not all of these would be bad. And if we could devise a way for coders to get paid, including coders independent of companies like IBM, while allowing the source code to be free, then this legitimate concern of good-souled skeptics could be met.

I really wish Larry lived next door to me so I can have lunch with him whenever I feel the Hand above the World is resting on the flush handle.  I read Professor Terry Fisher's working paper on the music industry and found no workable solution that can be applied to the software industry.

The situation in the music industry is a case of homicide with music lovers, drunk with new technology, killing the musicians, publishers, distributors in mass.  Fair use is a joke.  I don't deny that publishers and distributors are greedy son of b**ches, but a homicide it is nonetheless.  When MP3 became popular, I stopped buying CD cold turkey.  Since Napster died, I switched to radio for new songs instead of returning to buying new CDs.  Why?  Because I was no longer in habit of going to music stores occasionally to buy CDs.  Sure, I could buy music online, but I never got into habit of doing that either.  Lazilly, I seat back and listen to old CDs, LPs, and tapes or turn on the radio.  Watching the music industry go up in smoke with RIAA fumbling around it like the Three Stooges is hilarious and scary at the same time.

The situation in the software industry is a case of suicide in progress.  Within the industry, its the service sector killing the product sector with unfair cross-subsidies.  Most of the open source projects so far has been for consumption within the industry.  They were usually software tools and components one uses to build software with.  Linux is both a tool for developers as well as a component for server products than a consumer product.  The level of expertise and tolerance within the software industry was high so the quality didn't have to be high for open source projects to be useful.  Lower quality justified giving them away and charging nothing in return.  The Cathedral and Bazaar worked in that context.

For almost all of my 20 years programming, I have built consumer products and provided consulting to companies building consumer products.  In all of these efforts, I have bought tools and components.  Under onslaught of open source and free tools and components, I am buying less tools and components.  While open source proponents will say this is a good sign, I say open source killed developer tools and components market in return for nothing.  You see, if the tools and components are good enough for me to use in place of commercial tools and components, I don't need books and consultants to use them.  Am I glad with availability of free slaves?  No, because open source is starting to encroaching into the consumer market, the market I am making a living off of.

Documents about Chandler talks about various "killer features".  Killer features are intended to kill something.  If Chandler kills Outlook, we'll have Chandler where we used to have Outlook.  Nothing really changed except now no one is making a dime instead of the Bully making all the money.  The consumers will love it of course and learn to take free software as the norm.  How dare you charge money for what should be free?  The service sector will eventually get nothing in return because consumer software will be so easy to use and customize that they won't need any help.  The book industry will live a little longer.  No wonder Tim O'Reilly is so strongly pushing open source and free software.  How about free books too Tim?

Frankly, I don't know where the software industry is going.  I know Microsoft is causing serious harm, but I also understand their position which is "you can't punish us for being successful."  Understanding or not, I am willing to sacrifice my sense of fairness in return for the well-being of the software industry.  I think the appropriate solution is to break them up and implement preventive steps such as a) requiring software companies to place file format in the public domain, b) outlaw harmful bundling, and c) strengthening industry associations to maintain the well-being of the software industry.

I say, let us sue Microsoft for the damage it is doing to us instead of ripping our heart out to replace it with paper hearts.  Give me back my good old capitalism where I can kick ass without feeling guilty.

Larry Lessig’s Comments and Diego Doval’s Space

Larry Lessig, the law man leading the fight against copyright extensions, comments on my OSAF post.  "Dave", accused of nodding his head after reading my politically-incorrect post, responded before I had a chance to.  I will post my own response, hopefully, later today.

Diego Doval voices his own perspective as a potential Chandler competitor.  He is building a product called spaces that looks interesting.  It overlaps somewhat with my own effort called Docuverse Daily.

I have received many private feedback similar to his from small developers.  Unlike Diego, they have chosen not to respond publically for obvious reasons.  I doubt any of the large software companies will publically comment either.  Unfortunately, this is the sort of situation that makes my blood boil.  I wonder if David, as in David and Goliath, had similar genetic disorder.  I'll bet Larry Lessig has it too. <g>

OSAF Post Feedbacks

Marc Canter points out here that open source and free software are not inseparable and that one can build a commercial business using open source components.  I agree.  Gentleware built Poseidon UML using ArgoUML, an open source project.  I don't know how they are doing financially, but they are getting a lot of downloads.  But it seems to me that a) open source and free software is a popular and natural two-step, one following the other, and b) both open source and free software are highly wildfire like, meaning they spread fast and are difficult to control.

Scott Johnson posted a point by point rebuttal here.  He makes many reasonable points.  I do agree that Microsoft is harming the software market.  I also agree that Mitch has a right to do what he wants with his money just as I have a right to complain about it.  Yes, the PIM market is owned by Microsoft, but I disagree with Mitch's remedy due to potential side-effects.  I disagree that there is no sense of value for software in this country.  I do agree that I seem to be buying less software than before, but I ask what factors might have caused this change?  Microsoft contributed, but there are other factors involved.  Regarding his comment about possible conflict between my wish #2 and trade secret law, while we consume Coca Cola, file formats are used to store information that belongs to us so we do have a right to access independent of the file format creator's survivability.

Andrew Shearer also posted that sense of value is already gone and that OSAF just means more competition with beneficial effects.

My thanks to them for the feedback.

Double-Edged Sword

Two memes I am trying to impart to the community are:

  • Software market is an ecology that can be destroyed.
  • Free software is a double-edged sword.

It is human nature to see and hear only what we want to see and hear, for our ability to reason is not beyond the reach of emotions and desires.  When applied in mass, effects of our weakness are magnified to a level that engulfs even those who are trained to be objective.  Recent Dot Com Bubble is an example of this phenomenon.

I don't expect my opinions to deter OSAF.  I don't expect people to change their minds about free software either.  What I expect to achieve is planting a seed of doubt and raising a concern for the delicate balance of our ecology.

Mitch Kapor’s OSAF

People

  • Andy Hertzfeld – Andy has a great talent for creating innovative and highly polished GUI for consumer software.  I can trust him to deliver a GUI that knocks people out.
  • John Anderson – Another guy who has proven his talents for building consumer software.  His WriteNow was simple and easy to use.  I haven't used any of his NeXT applications, but I have heard great things about them.
  • Tim O'Reilly – With him on OSAF board, one can expect constant stream of guerilla marketing and publicity from O'Reilly.

OSAF Mission

OSAF's mission is to create and gain wide adoption of Open Source application software of uncompromising quality.  PIM is just the first project.  What will be next?  Which is worse, Microsoft announcing a competing product in the name of profit or OSAF doing the same in the name of community?

OSAF Financing

Mitch Kapor is putting up $5 million of his money.  That should be enough for three to four years with a staff of 14, some of them volunteers.  Once the first product is released, I am sure donations from box makers will start rolling in.  In return, the box makers will ask OSAF to build rest of the Office killer suite so they can ship Linux boxes with application suite of uncompromising quality.

Sense of Value

In countries like Korea, there was no software market because people did not see software as something you pay for.  When they bought a PC, it came with every software you will ever need.  Office?  AutoCAD?  dBase?  No problem.  While much has changed since, software piracy is rampant in Korea because people have no sense of value when it comes to software.  If they pay for it, its only because they might get raided.

What I am afraid of is the erosion in the sense of value for software.  If OSAF succeeds, consumers will have access to a wide array of high quality software for free.  Most likely, every PC will start to ship with them preloaded.  Every time a new OSAF product ships, a market segment will dies.  OSAF paints a picture of the future where consumers are expected to pay for contents and services, but software is free.

Path of Destruction

While Mitch may say and believe otherwise, I believe OSAF is a richman's Destructive Crusade against Microsoft's monopoly.  At strategic level, I agree with him that there are very few viable options against Office.  If the only path with reasonable chance of success leads to destruction of value, a cornerstone of market economy, should you take it?  My answer is no.  I'll admit that I am not 100% certain what lies at the end of OSAF's road.  I'll bet Mitch doesn't know either.

Wishful Thinking?

If I had a magic wand, I would:

  1. Break up Microsoft into little companies around products.
  2. Require all file formats to be documented and made public.
  3. Forbid application bundling by publishers and box makers.

Mitch Kapor wants to kill PIM Market?

Its great to hear that Mitch Kapor has a blog and wants to build a better PIM.  I also have no problem with it being open source.  But, I have a problem with a non-profit organization building a supposedly free software that competes with commercial software.  What about existing PIM software publishers?  Are they just roadkills on the way to Goodwill Valhalla?