Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Cost of Ultra

The ever rising costs of Ultra are not being managed.

Ultra: I’m using this term to denote sophisticated and densely populated hypermedia content such as a 3D world with sound, textures, texts. Today Joe Web Page mashes slices of other content from open libraries and from sampling fixed media such as CDs, scans of photos, Google-selected images and so on. Tastes for sophisticated content lead to burglary just as the protagonist of Anthony Burgess’s novel, "A Clockwork Orange" committed. When finally faced with the content owners as with Alex’s determined old woman, mashup artists are faced with the same kinds of suits that loop-sampling rap artists have contended with. Tastes for Beethoven have to reckon with the costs of orchestra production eventually.

For Ultra, virtual reality is a bell weather. Free user-generated content simply can’t sustain the market emergence. Between the time and skills required and the licensing costs of the wrapped high quality content (e.g., music, photos, animations), either Creative Commons has to become the rule or the user-generated content approach can’t sustain these sites without the kinds of deals CBS made with YouTube. This only works where the money to produce the originals is managed and provided as CBS does or as Linden Labs was doing before the CopyBot scandal. Without it, Joe Web page content lives in the content ghetto. If he releases the work to the web, he gets a short burst of attention but it will be quickly de-assembled and recompiled into the works of others in the ghetto. Worse, if the samples are linked to and mashed into other works, Joe assumes all of the risks while the link pirates have no legal obligations at all and can still profit.

The tensions between technologists receiving a disproportionate amount of the income generated by the user content on the web and the authors are rising. The ‘information wants to be free’ camps won’t admit that they are the shills for the rape of the content economy. Mark Cuban, Tim O’Reilly, Joi Ito and the rest of the “share your content but we keep our Porsche’s” face a 1950s redux of the revolutions that destroyed third world economies and turned the Soviet Union into a group of smaller nations unable to maintain their technologies or lifestyles just as the main body, Russia, became a gangster state. To be fair: O’Reilly did pay for articles published on his sites in stark contrast to others who go so far as to take technical list emails and republish them as branded articles in their web magazines. Yet the ravenous appetite of the web for content is orders of magnitude larger than TV, radio or cable.

When I look at what is required to build even a moderately sophisticated 3D immersive album as I’ve been doing, I remember what we said after IrishSpace: no one will do this for free for long. On the other hand, this is precisely what the major record labels need to sustain CD sales. 3D is not just for the web. What the web did was make the technology cheap to obtain but if the content is to be high-quality, production costs are already at rock bottom and distribution control in the form of fixed media remains stable. That is the dilemma facing the technologists who up to now have been taking the majority of the profits. They need the licenses for the content, Joe Web Page can’t manage it, and the Middle Guys can.

It sucks but there it is. Ultra content does not want to be free. It wants to be managed.

No comments:

Comment Policy

If you don't sign it, I won't post it. To quote an ancient source: "All your private property is target for your enemy. And your enemy is me."