Question 130 of 365: When are we open for business?

Image representing Kazaa as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

I am a part of the first generation of file sharers, the first set of adults who felt entitled to free music and software. More than anything else, peer-to-peer networks have shaped the way I think about ownership. When .mp3 files became more numerous than word documents, something within the computer and within us shifted. The business models of a dozen industries have been rocked by this shift. Yet, it is the root of this generation that is most intriguing. It is the file sharing ethos itself that has created so much change. And, it is this generation of adults, whose expectations are so drastically different from all others before them that will continue to drive the shift in politics, business and education. Other people have done this analysis in books and such, I will spend an entire post on it.

I used to have two pieces of paper taped to my monitor, one on either side. On the left side were perpetual searches that I would run whenever I got bored. I would type these terms into Gnutella, Napster, and later Kazaa. They were all names of bands that I admired, and already owned a significant number of albums from. I would download dozens of bootlegs for each of these bands, most of which turned out to be cover songs by wannabe artists.

I think that is why I became so enamored with authenticity. I became incredibly skeptical of any band that claimed to be one of my chosen few. I tried to match the vocal stylings and lyrical patterns, but at the end of the day, I just wanted to know that those artists that I believed in, could really be believed.

That is where the business opportunity comes in for the left side of our monitors. I would have paid for access to validated files. I would have ventured my own capital whenever I was asked, if I could only see a little bit more about the people that I idolized. In a world where everything can be copied and nothing is original, the only true value is in what can be validated and contextualized within something that we already respect. It is why the iPad works and Windows CE was a bust. We see that the iPhone OS has value already and it has been validated already by millions. Windows CE was not validated in any way because of the vast numbers of devices that have run that operating system. Each one watered down the validation; each one contributed to the knock-off status of every other device.

The people that we love are even more important than the brands as well. Those that can validate their contributions will increase the value of those contributions. Those that can validate their content within new and expanding formats (like mp3 files in the late 90s), will do the best of all.

As for the right side of my screen, these were the songs that I would search for and cross off as I found them. I went through many more pieces of paper on the right side than on the left. After I downloaded Breakfast at Tiffanies, I crossed it of. After I downloaded the A Cappella version of Two Princes (by the Spin Doctors), I didn’t have to worry about that one anymore. These are songs that I probably would not have paid for, but I downloaded them and enjoyed them imensely.

There is a huge business opportunity here for those things that we absolutely do not need, but would make our experience so much better. This is the back catelogue. The nostalgia factor.

I believe that these things need to be as free as possible. We need to keep the things from our past and our collective consciousness as open as we can. The stuff on the right side of our monitors needs to be at our fingertips at all times, because it is only through these features (I am talking about applications, knowledge, creative processes, and physical objects as well as songs here) that we will be able to grab hold of those who are also willing to part with money for new works as well.

I understand that it may be a fine line between nostalgia and new, but I think it is an important one. We should not have to pay for our own legacy (stuff we have already paid for, stuff that is in our understanding of possention and ownership), but rather, we should be paying for the legacies of others (and our future nostalgia, I suppose). The things that we have already come to expect, is not where the growth lies. It is in getting people to understand that they need more, by offering the rest of it for free.

It boils down to this: If we would like to own the future of education, business, or politics, we need to offer the past for free. Curriculum and textbooks must become free, but the method and interaction of learning must become our bread and butter. The feature sets of yesterday must be open sourced, but innovation must be at a premium value. The democratic precedent must be opened up for search and analysis for the masses, but the voting process and taxation for creating a better word is where we need to fully invest.

That is where the opporunities lay. For both the perpetual search and the list that we can check off. I don’t think either is easy, but if file sharing and the culture of entitlement can teach us anything, it is this: We can’t go back to a completely closed system. Everyone is empowered now, and we must fight our way back from the brink.

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