a long, well-written piece about content creation and its place in the current software/internet landscape. His post is in the form of advice for someone who wants to have a talk with Bill Gates, however, which brings up troubling problems.
Isn’t the Microsoft commitment to hard DRM (evidence of which is Ballmer calling iPod users thieves, but that’s not the only evidence) fundamentally incompatible with the idea that Microsoft should be privileging all of these next-gen content creation formats/methods/tools? Content creation doesn’t happen in a walled-off world where “commercial” stuff is completely split from non-commercial stuff. Read Larry Lessig on the subject – he’s had more insight into this than most. For him (in my interpretation), copyright and hard DRM aren’t problems because he’s a communist; rather it’s the reverse. Lessig proposes limits to copyright because he understands how creativity happens, and that imperiling creativity in the name of commercial absolutism is anathema to a society that wishes to derive value (both cultural and economic) from creative pursuits.
Content creation has exploded on the web because of linking, which neatly sidesteps many of the problems with this concept. Since you can link to something on the WWW, you don’t have to worry about copyright issues in order to riff off an idea, to comment about an article, to share your point of view, or to do any of a thousand other wonderful things. But you can’t link, per se, in a recording. You have to sample. You don’t link, as such, in a video – you put up a snippet in a different context.
Maybe it’s the difference between PageMaker/Quark/Indesign that enabled the Zine world and Blogger/Movable Type/etc. in the blogging world. Both kinds of software have enabled loads of “amateur” creativity, in the case of page layout software going back years and years. But there are many more bloggers than zine makers, because since you can’t “link” in print, the barrier has always been much higher to becoming a content creator in that environment, even though the software did make it more accessible than it was previously. Blogging, and writing on the web in general, can funnel all of that creativity and enable a whole lot more as well, since linking allows a different kind of creativity that doesn’t always require as awesome a commitment to creating all content in pretty much of a vacuum. The web lives off the link: the recombination, the re-contextualization, and the re-conceptualization provided by linking are its lifeblood. The constant flow of creativity on the web, which is theoretically and practically unlimited, comes because the link itself brings with it an energy that engages many more people than would be engaged in a non-linking medium.
If other types of content were more freely “linkable” in their own context – whether through sampling or other techniques – then perhaps they could enjoy the same explosion of creativity that harnessed the growth of the WWW. Unfortunately, the “money players” are doing everything they can to stop that from ever happening. And Microsoft is clearly in league with them.
Hard DRM and the kind of explosion in creativity and “content creation” that Scoble is applauding are fundamentally incompatible. All of the wonderful alternative means of expression are possible, but limited as long as you cant do in those environments what you can do easily – on the web. I think that for Microsoft to have any place whatsoever in that world of creativity and – beyond providing the basic software like Windows and such – it would have to turn 180° from its current position that non-DRM = theft. And until it does, theres no point even considering Microsoft as a player among the companies and individuals that are helping all of this amazing creativity grow and flourish.