My old sparring partner Jimmy Wales has been busy predicting the future again. This time, in a speech last month at the Global INET conference in Geneva, Switzerland, he said that Hollywood is doomed. But rather than skewered on the sword of piracy, Wales forecasts, it will be killed by its own irrelevance.
”Collaborative storytelling and filmmaking will do to Hollywood what Wikipedia did to Encyclopaedia Britannica,” Wikipedia’s illustrious co-founder predicts.
But, as usual, Wales is wrong. And this time, he is doubly wrong.
Firstly, Wales is wrong to argue that Wikipedia “killed” the Encylopaedia Britannica. As Britannica’s director of communications, Tom Panelas, told me, Wales taking credit for the demise of Britannica’s print business is “nonsense upon stilts”:
Let’s be clear. Sales of the print set began declining in 1990 and plummeted though most of the decade. If anyone was responsible for it, it was us. We cannibalized the print set; we disrupted ourselves. We began tentatively, with the first digital encyclopedia, in 1981, a text-only version of the Britannica for Lexis/Nexis users. We published the first multimedia encyclopedia in 1989 and put the entire Britannica on the World Wide Web in 1994.
Panelas is, of course, right. Britannica’s crisis was triggered by the creative destruction engineered by the Internet. What killed printed encyclopedias were the broad technological forces that are now killing many newspapers, publishing houses, and record labels: the personal computer, the Worldwide Web, the abundance of free content, and the new radically democratized networked culture.
“All of this happened, I hardly need add,” Panelas dryly reminded me, “before Wikipedia was even born in 2001.”
But Wales is even more mistaken to argue that the supposedly irrelevant Hollywood studios are about to be swept away by collaborative filmmaking. His evidence for this profound cultural revolution is, to put it politely, anecdotal. Pointing at his 12-year-old daughter who, he says, is skilled at iMovie and who collected a local prize for one of her short films, Wales argues that this younger online generation will produce Wikipedia-style collaborative movies that will come to replace expensive Hollywood productions.
In his INET speech, Wales suggested that his daughter’s generation would use special-effects technology, computer-generated imagery, and remote actors to make Hollywood irrelevant. But Wales is wrong to equate the collaborative process of editing a wiki with that of making a movie. A crowd has never made, and will never make, a successful movie, because making a film, in contrast with editing a Web page, requires individual creative skills and leadership.
As Tom Panelas told me:
We've seen what massive collaboration can do, and it’s impressive, but it’s not going to replace individuals and their unique, irreducibly brilliant, idiosyncratic contributions. Some people would wish it so, but the culture will need its Shakespeares, Cervanteses, Woody Allens, and Spielbergs of the future.
Like so many other digital utopians, Wales has been deluded by the leveling power of the Internet. “Hollywood will be destroyed and nobody will notice,” he predicted at INET.
But who is Wales kidding? Firstly, the cultural and economic power of Hollywood is as great as it’s ever been. Secondly, if by some catastrophe Hollywood were indeed destroyed, we would all notice, because the power of major motion pictures -- The Hunger Games, for example, or Ridley Scott’s much-anticipated Prometheus -- can never be replicated by amateurish collaborative videos made by networked tweens.
No, the truth is that Jimmy Wales would like Hollywood to be doomed because, in his mind, it represents a form of cultural elitism that deserves to be obliterated by the democratic Internet.
But Hollywood isn’t the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and I can confidently guarantee the health and vitality of the traditional motion picture industry for at least the next 50 years. That’s my prediction of the future; and I promise you that this unchanged picture is a lot more prescient than the nonsense on stilts presented by Jimmy Wales in Geneva last month.
Is there hatred of Wikipedia? My goodness yes, and they've earned it. Their clownish insistence on "advanced degrees" to write for their site, the almost complete lack of fact-checking, and the "we're saving the Universe" mentality make it hard to take them seriously. The fact that the vast majority of secondary and post-secondary educational facilities will not accept a Wikipedia citation for papers is quite telling. Do I use it? Absolutely. It's great for quick fact-checking, and quite useful for looking up pop-culture references and Internet memes. In fact, one of my favorite pastimes when I have a few spare minutes is to correct grammatical and spelling errors that are seemingly everywhere in their content. All that pedantry, and all that hubris. What's not to hate? Perhaps Hollywood could learn from their lesson, and not tick off the customers by trying to limit our options for enjoyment of their products. If you don't make me have to buy a different copy of the same darned thing six times for six different platforms, maybe I'll be able to buy more content. They win, I win. Hey, what a fabulous concept!
Does the steel industry have the power it had during the Robber Baron age at the turn of the 20th century, when railroads were King and we were building our bridges and vertical buildings?
So, of course we still use steel, and we still have big budget movies.
But these are no longer the "drivers" of industry or culture. For example, I've seen some "A" movies that are more like a copy of the format of quality TV series like The Wire!
So, what we're saying is that Hollywood exists, but it no longer the pacesetter or cultural driver. Another example I cite is Charlie Sheen. Here he was the "star" of TV Show, yet he felt the need to put on a feed on UStream to make himself feel relevent and with it! In the end, he imitated any high school kid.
I think there are a number of separate things going on here.
Hollywood is becoming culturally irrelevant; that's true. This doesn't mean it's in commercial trouble - cinema-going actually hasn't declined in recent years. However, you clearly have people going in large numbers to see an ever-more narrow category of big, action blockbusters.
Where Wales loses it is in suggesting that crowdsourced movie making, on a sort of Wikipedia model, might replace Hollywood. Jabailo, I quite agree that people are entertaining themselves in different ways with new media, but I don't see self-made YouTube videos being a replacement for Hollywood movies. I see it as something completely different.
I think his prediction has essentially come to pass...Hollywood is obsolete, in a McLuhanesque way.
With the rise of Facebook, every high school is its own Hollywood, complete with stars, clowns, fame and fortune. There is the dark side of online bullying and the occasional suicide-tragedy.
The point is Facebook and YouTube has taken human entertainment full circle, from people sitting around every evening listing to someone play the piano, to having all our media delivered from on high via television, to each of us typing away, and using our smart phones to make friends, and relate our latest happenings as if they were sent on the AP wire.
Where his predicition probably misses is in trying to ressurect the old media format in the new media channel.
The long essay was the old format for news and books. The 90 minute serial visual was the old medium for film. The 45 minute album was the old medium for music.
The new formats are shorter, and more buildable...like Legos. We write two sentences on Facebook. We make 1:12 minute videos on YouTube. We trade and stream 3:30 minute mp3s and mix them up in our own play lists. I've seen my son flip through 30 songs, playing 10 to 30 seconds of each!!
The new format is short...as short as the words from two people talking to each other.
Perhaps Wales' prediction won't become a reality soon, but YouTube has demonstrated that there *is* an incredible amount of content being produced that is, like it or not, competing for the same eyeballs that Hollywood wants to sell to. Every viral video on YouTube is evidence that there's potential in amateur producers. Sure, there's no reason to say "User Generated Content will kill traditional media" -- that's as stupid as saying computers will kill off the use of pencils. But that doesn't mean UGC isn't going to be a significant source of new content in the future... and arguably, it already is a significant source of content.
What a delusional argument by Wales. Great argument by you, of course, Andrew. I agree with all that you said. And I love the remarks by Panelas, especially his pointing out that his own brand was damaged by digital before Wikipedia came along with its pages upon pages of misinformation. Hollywood needs to change. Big Media needs to adapt. But these institutions aren't going to be replaced by "collaborators" with iPhones.
Jimmy Wales seems to have thought up something to entertain his audience with that has little basis outside his imagination. Perhaps, as Kim points out below, with the "wheels coming off Wikipedia," he sought a topic to distract from that.
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Dead since 1832, Jeremy Bentham is a cadaver that has been living in public ever since, on display beside "Dapple," his favorite walking stick, in a glass-fronted wooden coffin at London’s University College. His coffin was coined as an “Auto-Icon” by Bentham, which is a neologism meaning "a man who is his own image." Below is an excerpt from Andrew Keen’s new book, Digital Vertigo: How Today's Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us, in which he describes recognizing the Auto-Icon as a symbol for the digital age.
The following is excerpted from Andrew Keen's latest book, Digital Vertigo: How Today's Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us (New York: St. Martin's Press: 2012), which will be released this week.
I had come to London that morning from Oxford, where I’d spent the previous few days at a conference entitled “Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford.” This was an event organized by the university’s Said Business School in which Silicon Valley’s most influential entrepreneurs had come to the closed, haunted city of Oxford to celebrate the openness and transparency of social life in the twenty-first century.
“The future is already here -- it’s just not very evenly distributed,” William Gibson so presciently said in 1993. And late last week, that future, our open 21st-century future, was on show in a windowless late 20th-century building in downtown New York City, at an event hosted by AT&T.
Welcome to the zettabyte era, an age of increasingly wireless connectivity in which the gigabyte equivalent of every motion picture ever produced will travel across the Internet every five minutes. According to a Cisco white paper, global IP traffic, having increased eightfold over the last five years, will ascend to this zettabyte (one billion terabytes) peak by 2015. And by then, there will be more than 8 million households in the terabyte club and, even more astonishingly, another 20 million households producing half a terabyte (one thousand gigabytes) each month.
Facebook's Graph Search may face some profound challenges and risks, first, because Facebook users haven't been thinking of their posts as product reviews; and second, because Facebook will now have to contend with the social-network equivalent of SEO "gaming" of results.
The new UltraViolet online DRM model has people upset, but the question we should ask ourselves is whether we want a flexible model to harmonize content owner and content consumer rights, or a one-takes-all model that probably results in less online content.
Netflix seemed to be a threat to all of TV, but with the current quarterly earnings report, it sure doesn't look as if that's true now. Netflix really proves that even Internet viewing of video isn't immune to profit and other business issues. This is a lesson we need to learn if we want a viable online video model.
MySpace is reinventing itself by focusing on content, but it's too late, and other social networks should learn from its example by looking toward a telco payment model if they want to sustain user commitment and their own revenue.
The whole Amazon.reader debate is a double-stupid. It's stupid to think that there's any e-book buyer who doesn't know Amazon's URL, and it was stupider to let ICANN launch the whole free-form TLD initiative to start with.
Enterprises would like to move to cloud computing but are hesitant because they are concerned about providers’ ability to secure company data. Here are some tips that help to ensure that if breaches occur, the business is not left holding the bag.
Edmunds separates customers into segments based on the info it collects on its site and from partners, and uses that to push out custom content, said Brian Baron, director of business analytics for Edmunds.com, at Predictive Analytics Innovation Summit.
The automotive website uses propensity modeling to target ads and customer registration forms, said Brian Baron, director of business analytics for Edmunds.com, at Predictive Analytics Innovation Summit.
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