The future of content creation


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05 January 2005

I was going to post this on my personal blog, but it occurred to me that it is technical enough in nature to fit here. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />

EPIC is a flash video(which has been out for a while now) that portrays the future of media. It is scary, but interesting. Moreover it is thought provoking.

Certainly the web/blog/wiki thing has driven down the value of professional writing. Magazines (and vendors such as Microsoft) are paying less and less for content. Why should they pay when tons of people will produce content for free? Why should advertisers go with established publishers when some blogs outstrip them in readership?

Book sales are down. Even factoring in the dot-bust and the Bush-era recession of the past few years, book sales are down from where they should be. Who needs to buy a book when you can get so much online for free through a quick google search.

It is easy to look at Epic from a technology perspective, but it is the larger social perspective that I find interesting and troubling. And the social effects are real and there’s active debate.

Take the controversy over wikipedia.org for example - the encyclopedia business is under siege by who? Us. Anyone with a fact can share it with the world, without going through a formal company or process. Without any opportunity for anyone to make money on it. On one hand this is good, but on the other it is bad. Who’s going to fund archeological research? Who’s going to do the hard parts of finding facts? For free?

In the technology space, many of us blog things – including me. In many cases these are things that might have been paid articles prior to blogging, but now we gleefully put them on the web for free. That’s fun for a while, and is good for notoriety, but in the long run it isn’t sustainable.

Several people (friends or acquaintances of mine in both the Microsoft and Java spaces) recently have indicated that they are done writing - books, articles - they are done. This is troublesome. Is Atlas shrugging? Will the content of the future consist merely of the myriad voices of mundane souls?

Epic portrays at least one alternative, where it is at least possible for an author to get paid for their craft. Whether that is a realistic model doesn’t matter as much as the fact that some model must be found.

Because we’re not talking about just technical authors. We’re talking about fiction. We’re talking about music, and eventually movies. How will content creators get paid to do their work when random people do it for free? Will true artists bother? Do we care? Perhaps the people doing it for free are as good or better?

Perhaps they are just good enough, which is even scarier. That, after all, is the primary sin people ascribe to Microsoft. That they aren’t the best, but rather are just good enough – leaving us stuck living in a “good enough“ world rather than a really kick ass world.

I don’t necessarily buy that viewpoint on Microsoft. Having used various flavors of Linux I don’t see that as the “kick-ass world” I’m personally looking for anyway. But it is easy to look at reality TV and see where everything could sink to that level.

Epic raises serious questions that only time will answer…