The Wizards of Oz (.com)


I listen to a lot of tech focused podcasts. I think they’re a lot of fun and (very occasionally) informative. Like any editorial journalism, it’s really more about the entertainment value provided by the pundit than the content.

It’s always interesting to consider whether these folks are news reporters, or if they have become news makers. We’ve seen this to a great extent in the political arena where a reasonable argument can be made that pundits, who often may have no credentials at all beyond their having a public voice, are now shaping public opinion through the delivery of carefully crafted messages.

The internet has a great democratizing power and Jeff Jarvis speaking on the TWiG podcast pointed out the fascinating trend of journalism moving from being an institutional field to an entrepreneurial one. The effect of this trend is that a great many folks have found a “voice” on the internet. What is more fascinating, however, is that this trend does not seem to have lead in any way to a diversity in the opinions represented.

It is clear that most “tech podcasters” and bloggers share fairly similar ideologies, politics and geographic origins. Almost by definition, they share similar interests and backgrounds since a passion for technology usually either originates from a common place or takes one down a common path. As a collective, I think the term “Technorati” that has been applied to this community is a fairly good one. It is surprising, though, just how much of a monoculture the “Technorati” really are.

Where this potentially becomes a problem is when you consider the value of the Technorati reporting on the Technorati. I consider myself a pretty extreme geek. I’ve been a hacker/enthusiast since I was eight years old poking away at my Timex Sinclair 1000, dialed my first BBS at age 12 on a 300 BAUD modem attached to my trusty Atari 400 and have been an IT Pro at Fortune 500 companies for 17 years. A “fun weekend” for me typically consists of establishing a Kerberos realm trust between one of my Linux servers and a Windows Server 2008 AD DC running in a virtual machine on Windows 7 and seeing if a Mac OSX Leopard client can browse all of the resources. If that isn’t enough, on my Facebook page I proudly display photos of my Amiga 4000 browsing the Wikipedia entry on the Amiga 4000. If THAT’S not Jedi geekery, I don’t know what that is.

And why did I feel it necessary to regurgitate this self-serving “geek cred” bio? Well because I find it odd that as I listen to these tech pods, I often find myself saying “oh come on!” It hit me today when the panel on TWiG achieved immediate and universal consensus on the idea that “traditional TV delivery” was dead and that Hulu et al were where it’s at. The rationale offered was that these awkward, internet only, distribution mechanisms were “liberating”.

When I come home, I turn on my TV, turn on the Series 3 Tivo, and catch up on shows. I just don’t see what problem the various internet streaming (and download) TV content sites are solving. How is it easier to fire up some sort of computing device, visit “iTunes” (a Technorati DARLING) and start buying shows individually? When did entering Season Passes on Tivo become difficult? As for “buying ala carte” versus having a cable subscription, that’s an individual thing, I suppose, but to me it feels like the folks who advocate this “ala carte” model are the same folks usually screaming for the demise of the cable companies, the content companies, the traditional media and, sometimes, even TV itself. If you’re in the category of folks who really hate TV, but yet occasionally want to watch video that has become popular out on the web (most likely that want being driven solely by the fact its popular on the web), then I suppose “ala carte” video would be enough. For the vast majority of folks, however, I don’t think the cable bill is a deal breaker. If it is, there is always OTA HD right? I’m not sure I’d be so quick to agree that trading the entire legacy ecosystem for “Google” as a single master is such a great trade just because Google proclaims “we’re not evil, honest!”

Twitter is another darling of the Technorati. Sometimes listening to these pods is like visiting an alternate universe. I can see now how folks secure massive VC funding though! To hear the tale told Technorati style, Twitter might just be the most critically important and “transformational innovation” in the entire history of human invention. Twitter; the ultimate creation of the attention deficit afflicted “me” generation catering to folks who feel that their every utterance is worthy of distribution and competing for “followers” in some attempt to grab their fifteen digital minutes. There was even the suggestion that collecting all of this “important data”, archiving it, indexing it, exposing it, studying it… Was not only “critical” but that not doing so would be tantamount to being “unethical”! In the words of the great King Leonidas “This… is… SPARTA!”

Maybe the Technorati aren’t quiet the right folks to report on the impact of YouTube, Twitter and Hulu. It’s a great racket though… Maybe now is the time to cook up some harebrained scheme, run the pod circuit and find an “angel” among the last round of goofballs who cooked up some harebrained scheme and ran the pod circuit (I’m sure “digg” has been really “transformational” for humanity) The question is, in the current economy, how is the VC still flowing for this stuff? Has anyone proven that the ads and “eyeballs” have had any actually measurable impact on anything real? I guess the message is “just don’t look behind the curtain please; the Wizards of Oz.com are at work!”

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