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The Column icon The Column: Issue 40

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The Column is a monthly feature that explores the world of creativity and aesthetics.

The Creative Marketplace
Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable

The release of Microsoft's operating system Vista has arrived and heralds a transformation in the relationship of the user and their computer. Unlike previous versions of the operating system whose purpose was to provide a context for software to run, Vista has a dual raison d‘etre: delivering a robust and secure environment for running software; and equally yet somewhat less well known before its release, to act as a vehicle for the sale of services and products.

The last five years have seen a steady increase in eCommerse transactions, but technologies are coming on stream that will market services and products via personal devices to "participate" in ever more immediate transactions. As we become increasingly wired, advertising will target our every move...

The Hard Sell

The Internet is a context where people have exchanged information on a level playing field, but there are moves to change the delivery of the Internet into a two-tier system.

The freedom known as “Net Neutrality,” which allows you to go anywhere you want on the Internet under similar conditions, is under threat. US phone and cable companies are attempting to create premium lanes for higher fees, and they hope to give preferential access to their own services and those companies that can afford them. In this scenario life in the fast lane would deliver speedier web pages and online services to those who pay. Google for example might be assigned the slow track as a rival premium-paid search engine delivered faster results. Independent and small scale websites who could not afford the commercial premium service would become uncompetitive, and the performance of Educational and non-profit websites would suffer. The US Senate is debating whether to accept this proposal which is the most potent force in attempting to realign the Internet as primarily a place to buy and sell.

A Brief History of The Internet

It seems appropriate to take stock here and state the major milestones that forged the Internet.

In 1969 the first official network nodes were made between the University of California, Los Angeles, Standford Research Institute, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah. Ten years later USENET, the first networked discussion group was developed, and by 1981 the DNS (Domain Name System) was conceived by Dr. David Mills. SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) which provides the technology to send emails followed shortly after in 1982, and during 1985 "Symbolics.com" became the first registered domain.

Tim Berners-Lee developed the first web browser "WorldWideWeb" in 1991. This was later renamed "Nexus" in order to prevent confusion between the program and the abstract information space. One year later Tim developed the protocol that we now know of as the World Wide Web and described by the W3C as "the universe of network-accessible information, the embodiment of human knowledge".

1994 was a pivotal year in the burgeoning Internet as Mosaic was developed by Marc Andreesen at the National Centre for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) which enabled non-technical users to view images as well as text. 1994 also saw the first secure retail transaction on the Web, and Mosaic transmuted into Netscape in October under the code name "Mozilla".

By 1995 Microsoft Internet Explorer 1.0 was released along with Windows 95, and the dominant technologies and protocols to deliver and view the Internet were in place. The context for mass participation in the Internet had arrived. Three years on the first truly integrated Internet friendly operating system Windows 98 would be introduced just as Google and PayPal were about to launch.

Windows 98 presented "channels" for users to browse. At the time Microsoft thought the Internet would become like TV, and users would tune in their millions to the now defunct channels. It soon became clear however the Internet was a dynamic medium as compared with TV, its passive counterpart. The founders of Google had their fingers on the pulse and Channels became a thing of the past. The Internet, born of a desire to connect and share information, and in its early days often peopled by independent unconventional individuals, continued to subvert the desire of many commercial companies to commercialise it.

Microsoft and others took considerable time to work out just how they might best profit from this new context. With the arrival of the XBox in 2001 they began their quest towards claiming the Internet as a commercial landscape, and soon after Microsoft stabilized their operating system with the release of Windows XP, and Google became an increasingly dominant commercial force, Microsoft began developing Vista (business 2006, general release 2007) which for the first time will present an integrated Windows Marketplace as part of the operating system. Click Start > Marketplace.

Every Move You Make

PayPal's Mobile Text to Buy service which has rolled out in the US during 2006 enables consumers to purchase services and products instantly. You could for example pass a bill-board on the street that has a PayPal Mobile Code as part of the marketing message. You reach for your phone, text the code to PayPal, receive a message back asking for your pin, enter your pre-defined pin, and the goods are yours a few short steps on. Within five years instant payments such as PayPal's will be as common place as the ubiquitous credit card.

Fair Game

The days of buying disks with consol games at your local store are numbered. The XBox began offering a marketplace for game downloads, and the upcoming rival game consols are to bypass the heavy manufacturing and distribution costs of producing games on disk. All consols will switch to download services which feed greater revenue directly to the consol manufacturers.

In common with film makers, independent games developers will find it difficult to break into the closed loop. Pay to play online gaming subscription services delivered by the dominant manufacturers will dominate the industry. This will follow hot on the heals of DVD and CD production and distribution deliverable via a download model with less costs and increased automation to the producers.

More Than The Market

In this column I've summarized the story so far of the online marketplace, but this is by no means the complete picture.

The creative professional may contribute towards the sale of goods and services, but to be an effective communicator, they must also have a life outside the market. How we relate with others and the world of earth, sea, wind and sky, what we believe and communicate in our personal lives, these are the root of who we are. Without them we become empty shells, shelves for the commercial world to fill to bursting point.

As far as I can tell, those things that are not consumed, but given, are of far greater value in making us free, happy, and contributing members of a better world. As technology companies attempt to dominate and define the Internet as a marketplace, we should be mindful that what is most precious cannot be sold, nor bought...



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Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author. Mike is also the Creative Director of 2BrightSparks, a software company.

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