The recent arguments made by major content trade groups in the United States and other developed countries for the heavy regulation of the Internet have been based around the thesis "Content is king." However, an examination of the Internet easily shows that this isn't actually based on real information.

The "top sites" listing from Alexa1 lists exclusively nonprofessional content websites (a la YouTube and Wikipedia), social sites (Facebook, MySpace, etc.), and information aggregators (Google, Yahoo!, Windows Live, and so on). The first site to break this trend is unsurprisingly also not a professional content portal; it is Microsoft's corporate website. To find what can be described as a professional content website (excluding websites of pornographic nature), we have to dig down to #57, CNN. Next one: #60: ESPN Sportszone.

Given this evidence, it is hard to fathom how these groups can in good faith assert that the number one function of the Internet is the delivery of professional content to the masses. The rise of social networking and amateur content production in the last few years have completely overturned that trend, which may, in all fairness, have been true as recently as several years ago, and has been the unquestionable norm for content production since the beginning of writing. But that trend has ended, and it's best that the industries accept that fact. Bullying the government into pretending that they are still the cornerstone of public opinion is a losing strategy.

The slow, agonizing death spirals of newspapers and magazines in the face of legions of bloggers are making this new reality crystal clear. The true supports of the throne of professional content have been the difficulties associated with self-publishing: even a few decades ago, getting a book out without the backing of deep-pocketed publishing firm was extremely difficult. Now, it's simply a matter of putting a PDF up on a webserver and patiently passing links to it to anyone within shouting distance.

For this reason, even if the lobbyists of Big Content can worm their way into the white matter inside the heads of the FCC and Congress, they will still end up losing. Quality is moving away from the big, centralized distribution centers that grew fat and complacent in an age where material constraints kept them on top and towards the little, decentralized operations that flourish on the Internet.

Maybe content is king, but it's no longer the province of aged tycoons. Now is the time of the little guy.

  1., as of November 10, 2009

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