Freeky deeky

The “information wants to be free” discussion blew up again at the end of June, with the usual polar positions being taken as if this was a winner-take-all fight. It always seem as if the debate is framed by the extremes with the protagonists talking past each other, not at each other.

cash register

The New York Times actually has a pretty balanced overview that you can read hereBill Gurley and Bijan Sabet have also written good posts.

The coiner of “information wants to be free”, Stuart Brand, added a little something to that sentence, he also said that “information wants to be expensive”.  Why did the last bit not get the traction of the first?

Brand was saying that there will always be tension between these positions and that businesses will forever be maneuvering in this territory, adjusting their business models appropriately.

Apropos to this brouhaha Chris Anderson is currently releasing the audiobook version of the book Free — free for the unabridged version and $7.49 for the abridged version! Why? Because it takes 6 hours to listen to the full version and only 3 hours to listen to the abridged version which contains “the most important and engaging chapters and points, cutting three hours from the length without losing key concepts. Time is money!”

That is precisely the kind of model that “freetards” like myself are endorsing. Make it easy for the people who want to give you money to do so, first and foremost by creating an offer that is immediately understood to be better than free for a sufficient % of your audience (via Corey Doctorow and Kevin Kelley).

It shouldn’t really be that hard to understand that the free business model simply means—

Give away something that used to cost money. Make money in a different way as a result of the disruption. Have happier customers and higher profits.

And that’s the money quote!  :-)

Hot or not in Como, Italy

I will pass an important milestone at the end of August this year. Como, Italy will move into first place as the city in which I will have lived the longest, 17 years, surpassing North Bellmore, NY. Strange.

Man standing near Lake Como

Man standing near Lake Como

Italy is a funny place for a transplanted urban American to live. In no particular order, here is a quick list of everyday facts that you may find mildly amusing.

  • Many people still pay utility bills by lining up in the post office to pay in cash.
  • On Monday morning most local stores are closed, except for food stores. On Monday afternoon the situation reverses. The food stores close and the other stores open. This is the situation in Como. Each city will have its own schedule of odd openings and closings.
  • It’s not uncommon to find female janitors working in the mens’ bathroom in highway rest stops.
  • Most shoe stores here don’t sell shoe laces, those are found in the button shops along with sewing supplies, underwear and socks.

In recent years I have immersed my professional self in web and mobile culture and technology. It didn’t take long to realize that Como in particular, and Italy in general, are light years away from the SF Bay Area, from NY, from Boston, London and the other centers of entrepreneurial activity around the world. yet this is not really a problem for me as I like to work out of the echo chamber. It helps me keep a more holistic perspective.

On the other hand, I have come to understand that Italy has some deeply rooted cultural attitudes that will hold it back from taking part in the most interesting and radically different business models being developed around the world, the ones being catalyzed by digital connectedness. As an ex-pat and consultant I can just opt out, but it will take the changing of the generational guard before the business climate changes. I see these 3 factors as being especially relevant:

  • Italian business people tend to view the world as a zero sum game. If I win, you lose. The idea that working openly and cooperatively can grow the market for everybody so that tomorrow’s 10% market share can be bigger than yesterday’s 15% is a foreign concept.
  • Success is paradoxically viewed with suspicion. The assumption is that it was based on knowing someone on the inside or by immoral (at best) or illegal (at worst) activities. This is underscored by the behavior of most successful people; they rarely engage in mentoring or giving back to the market in which they succeeded. Happily there are some notable exceptions.
  • Lastly, and of crucial importance, the notion that an intelligent failure is often the prerequisite for success is not widely accepted. Italians play a kind of “hot or notbased on your most recent venture. Are you on your way up or way down? This is a shame because it stifles the creativity of entrepreneurs and will drive the best people to the Valley, London, NY or China.

What does this mean for me? For the time being, I still like that fact that I can take a break from work by walking down the old stone staircase into the piazza to have a great coffee in any one of many bars, or that I can take my bike to the pier, hop a ferry to a small lakeside town, have lunch and be back at work in a few hours. There is a very dependable and fast 3G signal here and my iPhone serves as a mobile office without breaking a sweat. Being connected to the net and being an hour away from 3 different international airports works for me.

And don’t forget that in Italy I can greet a friend with “Ciao, bella!” (cheek kissing included) without risking being taken for a pretentious dandy :-P  .

‘Pataphysics, say what?

Some of you may be puzzled by the title of this blog, so here’s a brief explanation for the curious.

‘Pataphysics (‘Pataphysique in the original), is a term coined by Alfred Jarry in 1893. It is to metaphysics, as metaphysics is to physics, AKA the science of exceptions.

Ubu done in Pongo

Ubu done in Pongo

I became enamored of Alfred Jarry in college after having been recruited to play a bit role in Ubu Roi. I had never heard of him before and was awestruck by its rawness, its power, its vehemence and the modernity of the piece. It premiered in 1896. I could go on at length about Jarry’s take no prisoners artistic position, but suffice it to say he remains a seminal figure for me.

I recently discovered that the word ‘Pataphyics was written into Maxwell’s Silver Hammer by Paul McCartney – “Joan was quizzical, studied ‘pataphysical science in the home…” and immediately loved the image and decided to adopt it here. First, because my train of thought runs on a ‘pataphysical track (Eadem mutata resurgo: “Although changed, I shall arise the same”) and second I am always attracted to the esoteric and ambiguous. The song itself is no great shakes, but I couldn’t resist the Jarry reference.

It will certainly take me a few weeks (months??) to get back into blogging and to dress the blog up with appropriate widgets, decent blog roll and all the other doodads. This is my experience with a self-hosted WordPress blog. So far, so good and this K2 template is the cat’s meow.

Over and out.