Blind optimism and paranoia in online media

About two years ago now, from my seat as the business owner of an online b-to-b publication, I started freaking out about becoming irrelevant. I don’t mean me personally, though the people still working there may disagree. I mean the idea of being a business that creates content and distributes it.

The key ingredients to success at the time were page views and being important. There was no design you could apply to your web site to remedy the page view problem. Anybody who could think could also publish globally. RSS was increasing the speed of and improving access to information.

Where would it end? Was our island of high quality editorial a strong enough position to grow from?

I’m sure I wasn’t alone then in being afraid of the future, nor am I alone now in being insanely jealous of the YouTube guys.

A startup that didn’t even exist two years ago now pockets well over $1 billion dollars. I can’t even fathom what that means. I have some friends who have done well for themselves in the dotcom gold hunt, but that kind of money is just beyond what I can comprehend.

The good news is that people are much less focused on being afraid today and much more open to pursuing ideas that have an unknown upside. There’s no harm in trying a new idea and seeing if it works. And if it doesn’t, it’s easy to try something else. People everywhere seem excited to explore and do things differently, to empower people, to explore new revenue models, to try new technologies.

It turns out that nobody is relevant everywhere, so the playing field is flat. I like the way Chris Anderson defines the new media model:

“The old model was that if you wanted to be a filmmaker, you had to go to the Hollywood studios. If you wanted to be a musician and get heard, you would go through the label system. If you wanted to be a published author, you needed to get signed by a publisher.

The new model is, “Just go and do it.” Everyone can get out there directly without going through these gatekeepers, and most of what is created is junk, but some of it isn’t.”

This is true of business, too.

Of course, what worries me now is that the high-priced acquisition craze will bring back the bad ideas that made the Internet such an ugly place in 2000. Unfortunately, money motivates people so well that somebody might actually pull off one of my silly ideas or, even worse, sell it for millions and mock me all the way to the grave.

I suppose there’s always something to be paranoid about.

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