Goodies to Go (tm)
January 17, 2000-- Newsletter #63

By Joe Burns

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Goodies to Go (tm)
January 17, 2000--Newsletter #63
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Please visit http://www.htmlgoodies.com
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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors,

Did you hear...

A cracker (or hacker depending on how you define the terms) somehow got into the CD Universe database files and stole hundreds of credit card numbers. After a $100,000 blackmail attempt failed, the cracker posted the numbers to the Web for all to see. The cracker, believed to be out of Europe, is still at large. So if you've made a purchase at CD Universe, you may want to keep an eye on your next few credit card bills.

U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno wants to start LawNet, a round-the-clock watch on cyber crime through the Internet. From what I understand, she'll set up networks of people who surf stupidly in order to get scammed. Once scammed, they turn on the scammer and bring down the law. You have to admit - that's a pretty cool job.

A couple new Y2K burps popped up. Software from CyberCash was never updated so many Visa and MasterCard customers were billed twice for items purchased near the start of 2000. A group of cash registers in Greece are showing 1900 on their receipts. Godiva Chocolate Company had a problem with their cash registers too. They stopped working. Al Gore's Web site posted their dates through JavaScript so the date displayed the year as 19100. Doppler weather systems in Chicago were shut down for a short time.

Also, for those who believe that Y2K was all a big hoax, the government set up three of their non-compliant machines to run through 2000. Each machine crashed and could not be restarted. Gosh.

Now onto today's topic...

AOL and Time Warner have merged into a huge media monster. The deal, valued at $160+ billion in stock, put the number one Internet provider and the number one entertainment company in the same boat. Do you know what they're going to call the new company? AOL Time Warner. Clever, huh? You'd think with all that money they could have come up with a better name.

From everything I've read about the merger, it sounds like the more things change the more they stay the same. I don't know that I find this merger such a great idea. As I see it, now AOL has access to all of Time Warner's entertainment media including People Magazine, Time, and Sports Illustrated, Warner Brother's movies, CNN's content among others. Plus AOL can now use miles of cable lines to deliver content at "like-television" quality. Of course then there's AOL's gaining access to 13 million cable subscribers thanks to Time Warner.

On the other side of the coin, Time Warner has access to a huge Internet audience for advertising, sales, and delivery of content. Plus, the merger literally yanks Time Warner into the 21st century. They basically bought an in-place delivery system.

For both of the companies, it validates the Internet as a legitimate business and delivery system. Those who might have been wary of the Internet can now look to the merger and think, "maybe the Internet is for real".

The question is...is this giving anyone anything new? Does the merger benefit anyone other than the stockholders and those involved in AOL and Time Warner? One person I asked responded "Of course not. They did the merger to get control of a larger audience. Period"

I don't know that that's far off. If I'm missing the benefit to the consumer, then I'm sure you'll let me know, but let's look at what I hear being touted as the benefits.

Maybe, thanks to the merger, I can get TV quality movies and TV shows on my computer. But can't I do that now? I'd use my TV for it. Is it a benefit that I can now use my computer? I guess a benefit would be that I could have the items when I want them, but would the download time or streaming concerns make it better than going to the video store or waiting until the show airs? (I doubt you'll be able to see shows over your computer before they air.)

I saw that the merger would allow you to purchase any and all merchandise from the Warner Brothers catalogue. Can't I do that now? Is the fact that I can do it all from one central location a benefit?

On the morning after the merger, the early shows were going on and on about how big the merger was while talking to expert after expert. I guess I'm missing something since every time someone would explain the benefits of the get-together, I shrugged because I didn't see anything improving the life of the guy sitting at a terminal.

What did grab my attention was a small, what's known as "kicker", story, at the tail end of the newscast. The anchor stated that stocks of Viacom, Disney, and other media giants went up as much as ten percent because of the belief that it was only a matter of time before they would be bought by an Internet giant, creating some competition for AOL Time Warner.

Now I'm concerned.

Have you ever heard of the concept of "hegemony"? Hegemony, without getting into too much theory, is a Marxist concept that states that the ruling ideas of the upper class will become the ruling ideas of the lower class. Now, I'm not a Marxist, before you ask, but I do think the theory, when applied to the media, shows cause for concern.

Let's say there are two newspapers in a city. Two separate companies own each paper. That makes two companies competing against one another. Two local owners making decisions in a local situation. Now let's say one paper goes under financially, leaving the other paper as the only game in town. That paper alone now has the ability to say how the newspaper business, in that town, will run. Now let's go farther. A national newspaper-publishing company buys up that local newspaper. The local newspaper is now one of 500 papers across the country run by that one national company.

See what happened? The decision making process went from many smaller papers across the country making individual decisions for their local area to one national company making decisions for all those newspapers. Now we have a concept of hegemony. One small group exerting power over the masses.

Please understand I'm painting with a broad brush here. Hegemony is a theory, not a provable fact, but can you see where I think this is going? If all these mergers between Internet and media giants occur, then the idea-makers at the top become smaller and smaller, making decisions for a larger and larger number of people who use the service.

And...if the mergers occur then it is only a matter of time before two huge mergers merge to create yet a larger multi-media conglomerate. Some might think that such a massive merger would never go though. Well...AOL and Time Warner went through and I defy you to pick two larger companies, in this industry, to merge.

So let's say I'm right. Five years from now, we have a small number of people making the decisions about content, and merchandise, and fees for Internet users and Internet commerce. Instead of 100 choices, you have 5. Oh sure, you can still go to many different stores, but each is owned by the same company and each is run pretty much the same way. The landscape of the Internet will be shaped by a small group of people. Maybe you'll be very happy with what comes out, maybe you won't.

If you aren't happy, what will you do? To whom will you complain? Will your voice make a difference?

Of course there will always be a portion of the Internet that will be created by individuals. Those who do not like what they see will always have a section of the Web to visit, but what will be there? How long will a Web site be successful on its own before one of the large companies comes along and snaps it up? And once they snap it up, will the site be run the same way it did or will it be molded a bit to conform to what the owners of the conglomerate feel looks best?

It will be interesting to see how the companies involved in the merger handle their customers. Policy will be set at the top and filtered down though the system. Few to many. It will certainly be good to AOL Time Warner. Will it be good for the Internet?

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That's that. School will have started at my University by the time you're reading this. This semester I'm again going on line with my HTML course. The class is full and I'm ready to go. I wonder if I should offer the class format on line? Hmmmm.....

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: What does Charlotte Bartholdi's face look like? What do Jeanne-Emilie's arms and body look like? Just like the Statue of Liberty. Those two people were the mother and girlfriend, respectively, of the statue's designer Fredric Auguste Bartholdi.

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