I stumbled on an old DaveNet piece from 1994 on developers and platforms, which caused me to go back and reread a number of his classic e-mails. I forgot how interesting they were.
These were the good old days of the Internet, where you could write about Microsoft, and Bill Gates would write back telling you why you were an idiot. (Well, he didn’t actually use that word, but how would you describe: “Nothing I said… could have been misinterpreted to suggest [the idiotic thing you wrote].”)
My favorite piece (so far) is an e-mail that Esther Dyson sent to Dave, which includes these highly prescient lines:
The new wave is not value-added; it’s garbage-subtracted. The job of the future is pr guy, not journalist. I’m too busy reading, so why should I pay for more things to read? Anything anyone didn’t pay to send to me… I’m not going to read.
Yes, in a world full of content and advertising and pr, I still want to know what your friends and mine are thinking, but I want only what they think is so good that they’ll pay to have me read it — because they honestly believe it will raise their stature in my eyes.
If that isn’t foreseeing the downfall of newspapers and the rise of Facebook and Twitter statuses and Google AdWords, nothing is.
It gets better:
Our old ideas about intellectual property are going to be revised in a world where content is abundant and rich people’s attention is increasingly scarce… Maybe Steven King will post his books on the Internet — and start charging for readings. University professors publish works basically for free, and make money by teaching and by giving their institutions respectability with their names. Already some software companies are distributing software for free and charging for support. Consultants publish free newsletters in order to win clients. And as John Perry Barlow loves to point out, the Grateful Dead let you tape their concerts, but they charge you to attend.
Let’s see: in 2000, Stephen King published The Plant as a “pay what you think is fair, how ’bout $1” digital download and his Riding the Bullet was famously given away for free by Amazon and Barnes and Noble to help jump start their eBook program.
MIT created OpenCourseWare, where you can view “Free lecture notes, exams, and videos from MIT. No registration required.” for 1900 courses. In their own words, it a “web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content.” This happened in 2002.
And I think I barely need to touch on the “software companies are distributing software for free and charging for support” line, given the rise of Open Source software in the past 15 years.
Blogs and Twitter have made it trivial for consultants to freely publish their content or information to the whole world — often in hopes of getting paid. Seth Godin is probably one of the best known practitioners of this art.
And the Dead? Ironically, they had a dust up in 2005 when a few of their members asked for their recordings to be pulled from the Internet Archive.
As for Esther, she mentions that she “make[s her] money other ways: These comments may draw attention to [her] newsletter (still charged for the old way, I blush).” Since then, she’s moved along the chain from paid newsletter, to printed book, to newspaper column, to blog, to Flickr and Twitter. No dummy, her.
So, if you want a blast from the past, check out the old DaveNet pieces. I find the early ones the most interesting because they date back to when DaveNet was an e-mail list (instead of a blog post), so there was more give and take between Dave and his readership in the essays themselves, instead of being sidelined into comments or their own personal blogs.