Push Push ...

CobraBoy! (tbyars@earthlink.net)
Sat, 31 May 1997 12:21:52 -0800


By Doc Searls March 14, 1997 For the June 1997 issue of Linux Journal

This month Wired, the computer industry's utopian fashion monthly, declares
its wish to supplant the Web with media more suited to advertising. In a
"special bulletin" by Kevin Kelly and Gary Wolf, and with its customary
overstatement and retinal-torture colors, the magazine devotes its cover
and following eleven pages to "PUSH! Kiss your browser goodbye: The radical
future of media beyond the Web" -- a manifesto on the "emerging universe of
networked media that are spreading across the telecosm."

This universe doesn't exist yet, so Wired evokes its promise with the
language of a sci-fi movie trailer: "Think video. Think text flickering
over your walls. Think games that work. Think anything where a staid,
link-based browser is useless." Imagine "a zillion nonpage items of
information and entertainment."

The Web, sadly, is just "an archive medium." It's "a wonderful library,"
Wired says, "but a library nonetheless." Hey, who wants to surf in a public
building? What today's Netizens really want is "a land of push-pull, active
objects, virtual space and ambient broadcasting."

This land won't rise from the work of the ordinary schlubs who now fill the
Web's library with goods that offer rather than push. No, this Shangri-la
will be called from the void by "20-year-old hot shots in the labs of
PointCast, ESPNET, SportsZone and CNET." Thanks to their pioneering genius,
the browser is already "dying as the main event, to be reborn as a subsumed
function and occasional option."

Even though "the design of what is emerging...is now neither clear nor
important," Wired is sure it will let you "move seamlessly between media
you steer (interactive) and media that steer you (passive)."

Let us pause to observe that the notion of media that steer you was never
part of The Net's -- or any media's -- appeal. The Internet's success also
owes exactly nothing to those who would use it for manipulation.

But I'll hand it to Wired's editors: when they sell out, they go all the
way. Not long ago, the magazine wrote an April Fool's piece on "the death
of the Web." Now they mean it. "It turns out only a handful of us are up
for the vigorous activity of reaching out to engage the world," they say.
Most of us are "still addicted to passive media." Which, it turns out, is a
good thing, because "there's a little couch potato in all of us."

Pity the poor spud forced to face "information framed on a two-dimensional
hypertext page," and to "navigate blind clickable links and search engine
requests, drilling down to try to find what they want." No wonder such
labor-intensive tools are "retreating into the bowels of the Net."

Wired wants your inner potato to enjoy "a more full-bodied experience that
combines many of the traits of networks with those of broadcast." This
combination is what our young farmers call push media: "content is pushed
to you, in contrast to the invitational pull you make when you click on the

"The central mission" of this new agriculture "is to shoot every
conceivable media flavor across, through, inbetween and around a network
that includes every possible hardware device." What you get will be
"in-your-face, immersive, experiential push media."

The editors say "at first glance all this looks a lot like the revenge of
TV." At last, from beneath the Web's riot of voluntary vegetation "the
subterranean instincts of couch potatoes rise again!"

Wired tells us push has been with us since the Dawn of Art. In journalism,
for example, "once you dive into a story...the author pushes you along, and
the magazine steers." At movies you "surrender to the director's
manipulation of your emotion and your mind." Indeed, art is a pushy

And thankless too. Consider the pitiless consumers whose constant
rejection the pushers endure. "In the competitive jungle of 500,000
channels," today's pushiest media are subject to "the relentless
interactive tick of the zapper."

"That almost neurotic urge to zap," Wired says, "has falsely led people to
think that what viewers want is more zapping, more control, more steering.
What they want instead are more ways to zap." Enter "the emerging
postbrowser interfaces" that "create different ways to 'play' human

Sadly, the Web is too demanding for the average spud. "Web users suffer a
sense of being lost and overwhelmed." More than half of them have given up
surfing, Wired laments, because they just hit the same old sites, or they
find "the signal is camouflaged by all the noise."

That noise is made by spuds whose content is second-rate, or worse: kind of
a hobby. They've made the Web a craft fair of bad watercolors and lopsided
ceramic bowls, where such in-your-faceties as those created by the artisans
at Wired are all too rare.

"Yeah, rolling your own is very rewarding, but often we'd like someone else
to slip us a ready-made. Even though it may not be as nifty as the one we
made. Or maybe because it is niftier and better made."

Trust your inner potato. "Seinfeld viewers know what we're talking about."
Television succeeds for a good reason. "You dial it for a mainline fix of
unadulturated push. It's great for that universal plunge into the Thing
Larger Than Myself." (Seinfeld? Are we that small?)

And so "we are now about to arrive at television (push media), before we
finally emerge into what interactivity is really about."

Ah, so all this push business is really just television, only better --
more "ambient," more "ubiquitous," more "sexy," more of a "warm, familiar,
fuzzy convenience." Well, that answers the big question: Who is going to
pay for all this?

Advertisers, of course. "Advertisers and content sellers are very willing
to underwrite this," Wired says, even though they would be wrong to
"happily back push media in hopes that the spells that work on TV will work
there too." But hey, advertisers are easily hypnotized, too. "Push has
advertisers transfixed," the editors say. "In the short run, advertisers
can be counted on to pile in."

This from a company that hasn't been able to sell an IPO because even the
ravenously credulous investors who are driving stock prices to the sky
don't buy their magazine's inflated estimations of itself.

Well, let me tell you about advertising.

Before some of today's push geniuses were born, I co-founded what is now
one of Silicon Valley's biggest advertising agencies. My name is still on
the door. That agency does many millions of dollars in annual billings,
mostly in print. Some of it, I suppose, runs in Wired.

Advertising is a product of scarce access to large numbers of customers and
prospects. Since the Dawn of Advertising, The Media have been the sole
providers of that access, and they've charged a lot for it.

But when companies find ways to interact directly with customers and
prospects, they will shoot resellers, distributors, retailers, advertising
media and every other margin-demanding intermediary that stands in the way.
In fact, the shooting has already started. The result is a new trend called
disintermediation. It's a lot more scary than downsizing, because it
starves whole companies and business categories, rather than just a few

The most threatened businesses are the ones that depend on advertising.
This is why the last thing ad-supported media want is an efficient market
for product information. But that's exactly what the Net provides.

The lights Wired sees at the end of the Web's dark tunnel are miner's lamps
of countless companies digging toward their customers. They're digging with
the same Internet tools Wired now demeans, including the Web, browsers and
email. These tools cost squat, and they do an amazing job.

In the face of this, advertising has an existential choice: help dig or get
shoveled aside.

The shoveling will be easy. The advertising we all know and hate is a huge
and often wasteful expense that most CEOs can downsize or ax with few
immediate penalties. Some executives and suppliers might lose their jobs,
but the SEC and IRS won't even notice.

And don't think the Big Boys aren't looking carefully at the issue, even
if they share Wired's da-glo wet dreams about "immersive media" and
"ambient advertising."

Two years ago at PC Forum, John Warnock of Adobe observed that ads in The
Wall Street Journal waste lots of trees and deliver no obvious results,
while a single notice on the company's Web site brings thousands of
downloads and countless useful customer relationships. And Warnock is one
of the guys who appreciates image building, branding, positioning and other
advertising arts.

The Net shortens the distance between supply and demand, both for products
and for information. What Wired calls "a vast unmapped cave of documents"
is the most powerful marketing resource ever created, because it can
deliver deep and rich marketing content on demand -- especially once it's

Does Wired really think "spelunking" with search engines is the terminal
stage of network organization, and that what traditional LANs call
"directory services" won't show up soon? (For clues about where we're going
with all this, check out Netscape's LDAP White Paper and A Bulldozer
Through the Intersection, in Reality 2.0.)

There is something huge happening on the pull sides of more markets than
Thomas Register can list. It's not creating dumb web pages and not surfing
around for entertaining distractions. It's demanding useful information,
contacting suppliers directly, and treating as garbage everything doesn't
add value. That garbage will include much of today's advertising and the
media that depend on it -- unless, of course, they evolve to life forms
that survive what in TechnoLatin we might call "the emerging demand-driven
information environment."

By demeaning both the supply and the demand sides of markets for everything
other than narcotic entertainment, Wired sets new altitude records for
stupidity and arrogance. If the magazine had any moral authority in the
first place -- and I have to believe they did, given a masthead that still
includes Stewart Brand, John Perry Barlow, Esther Dyson, John Heileman and
other advocates of freedom and self-worth -- they forfeited it with this
contemptible tract.

What Wired editors hail is a postmodern "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."
It treats Netizens not only as vegetables, but as hosts for its
advertisers' pods.

Fortunately, advertisers live in reality. I hope they give these fools a
dose of it.


Anyway, that's just my opinion, meant to confuse and disorient...

<> tbyars@earthlink.net <>