My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

Newspapers dubbed Internet parasite by Me

According to Robert Thomson, Google is an "internet parasite". In Thomson's view, Google's aggregation of content promotes a "'mistaken perception' that content should be free" and decreases traditional brand loyalty.

The nature of content, content creation, and how much this information is worth are at the heart of every major debate regarding the economics of the Internet. These issues are responsible for our DRM woes with regards to software and digital music, and they drive the collapse of so-called "traditional media", such as newspapers, which aren't adapting quickly enough to the new playing field.

This is the most amusing quotation:

Google encourages promiscuity -- and shamelessly so -- and therefore a significant proportion of their users don't necessarily associate that content with the creator.

Oh no! Google's promoting competition among content providers! How dare they?! I mean, it's not as if the so-called "free market" is based on competition. Shame on Google for corrupting those free market values!

I would go so far as to argue that the whole point of the Internet is aggregation of content. This is why the Internet revolution is so profoundly different from any previous information revolution, including that of the printing press. The Internet removes any cost associated with distributing content--there's only the initial cost of production, then it can be distributed an infinite number of times. And this is scary for businesses that rely on the scarcity of their commodity relative to its demand. Now that content can be ubiquitous and easily accessible, these businesses are struggling to adapt their revenue model.

Thomson's reaction, unfortunately, is indicative of the larger trend among traditional media providers: they don't get it. They don't get that it doesn't matter if content should be free--content is free now. We live in a society of moochers. Pointing at Google, which has recognized the role of the Internet in content creation and is now profiting from it, and claiming that Google's tactics "aren't fair" is just an economist form of whining. In order for newspapers to survive, it won't be about the content they produce but their ability to specialize, embrace new technology--rather than resist it or co-opt it--and their willingness to share content at first in order to build that brand loyalty that Thomson insists Google is ruthlessly eradicating.

Meantime Thomson said it was "amusing" to read media blogs and comment sites, all of which traded on other people's information.

"They are basically editorial echo chambers rather than centres of creation, and the cynicism they have about so-called traditional media is only matched by their opportunism in exploiting the quality of traditional media," he said.

It's true that many sites, especially those that aggregate content, aren't necessarily original. However, Thomson fails to acknowledge that freely-available content allows for new "centres of creation." That's why we have concepts like "public domain" and Creative Commons.

To be fair, Thomson does a good job of summarizing the challenges of traditional media: "Thomson also said it was incumbent on content creators to make their own websites compelling for readers." The article ends with a somewhat syntactically ambiguous quotation, but I think Thomson was adding a caveat emptor for those who prefer to reinvent the wheel rather than fix the broken one. He raises questions that newspapers must answer before finding their place in the new world order.

I for one welcome newspapers to the Internet, provided the stop whining and adapt (or die). The Internet isn't killing newspapers; the market that the Internet facilitates is killing newspapers. And so far, newspapers' bids to kill off the market haven't worked, so it's time to face the music: change or die. Because unless newspapers do start doing something useful with their online presence, aren't they just parasites preying on those who have been socialized--wrongly I believe--that knowledge must be hoarded?