What’s It Worth?


The Future is Calling

New technologies can have massive disruptive impacts. When they appear whole industries, institutions or careers can collapse – seemingly overnight.

Sometimes, a new technology is so powerful that it changes the very way we think.

The invention of the steam-driven engine and the subsequent explosion of industrialization and rampant capitalism in Europe turned Dante’s “seven deadly sins” ca. 1320 (extravagance, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride) into the very foundations of a successful society. What Wall Street trader does not extoll the virtues of greed, pride, wealthy excess?)

The invention of the telephone also turned the concept of “value” on its head. Prior to the telephone, value was measured by rarity. If you posessed it, and no one else did, then the thing you had had great value. If you have the only diamond in the country, then that diamond has great value. If everyone has a diamond, then that diamond has almost no value.

With the invention of the telephone in 1876, the seeming natural order of the world was turned on its head. If you have the only phone in a country, what is that phone worth? The answer is… nothing. Because who are you going to call? If you have a phone, and only one other person has a phone, how much is your phone worth now? A bit more, but not much – as there is only one person to talk to.

However, if you have a phone and everyone else in the world also has a phone, how valuable is your phone?

Now you can call anyone on the planet. Suddenly, your phone is worth a great deal – so much so that you can probably not live without it.

With the rise of networks, valuation suddenly comes with commonality as opposed to rarity. A complete reversal of what must have seemed until then the very order of nature.

Now comes the Internet, another network…. and television.

Up until the Internet, there was a belief that the value of rarity.

“We’re the only ones who have this!”

In a world of limited resources, executives were paid and employed to decide what news stories or what programs should be run. Cosby or MASH? These were the Brandon Tartikoff’s of the world. The programming geniuses.

But the web is a very different world. It is infinte and it is non-linear; two conditions that go against everything a million years of human experience has taught us. These are hard concepts to accept. The web is fundamentally counter-intuitive.
In a world of an infinite web, the best sites offer not rarity, but everything. All the time. This of course, is the power of Google. It would be far less attractive if it only covered the part of the web that ‘most’ people want to see.

So, perhaps there are only 30 people who want to watch My Mother The Car, or news about East Pottsylvania. And perhaps you can only charge $.50 per view for each of these. So what? There are millions of such micro customers every day, for millions of options that might exist. And they are there 24 hours a day – not just at 6PM.

It is the cumulative effect of these millions of micro demands running all the time that create an entirely new market – and a far more powerful market than the centralized one for MASH or CBS Evening News at 6:30PM.

As Amazon’s attraction is that you can find pretty much anything there; as Google’s attraction is that you can find pretty much anything there – we will one day be astonished that we considered a half hour at 6:30PM with 7 stories, or even the physical limitation of a print edition of The New York Times to be the paragon of news and information in our very limited world.


One response to “What’s It Worth?

  1. Hmmm… “Microchannels”. Micro customers. The Long Tail of the information revolution. I will be right back, I have to go edit some things. And scribble out a million ideas.

    Thank you so much.

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