The real king

June 4th, 2008 by · 6 Comments

BearOnBusiness and Telecosm are discussing whether content is king of the network, so let me put my two cents in. Most content is like most people and like most things in this world, it follows rather than leads.  It flows downhill via the path of least resistance – in fact it is a watery analogy I will rely on here.  Is water king?  Or are the pipes king?  Neither, it is the valves that rule them both.

Valves?  What the heck am I talking about?  Valves, or groups of them, regulate the direction, speed, and destination of water within the pipes, in the internet one would perhaps call them vectors: how the content gets from the creator to the viewer.

Ask yourself what has driven internet growth during each internet era.  What has disrupted the content supply chain?  Was it content? Was it the pipes?

  • The birth of the WWW came really with Mosaic back in the early 90s, the first real browser and the predecessor to Netscape.  Websites started springing up all over, html and small graphics started flowing through the pipes.  The pipes had been there for years already with email and ftp and gopher, the content didn’t exist – it was the opening of the new vector that changed it all.  For a long while there, Netscape was King.
  • Portals like Yahoo were just new ways for people to get the information they wanted, they owned no pipes and little if any of the content, but they still ruled in their day.
  • Filesharing – Napster, Kazaa etc were everything 3-5 years ago, driving much of internet growth at the time.  Was it the content that drove that?  Actually the content didn’t change at all.  Was it the pipes?  Again no, it was the platform to use it that opened new pathways for content to travel, new vectors in the system.  They usurped the throne for a while, but were eventually beheaded.
  • YouTube enabled vast amounts of content over the last few years, but it was not the content that drove that growth.  YouTube opened a new vector from which new content gushed out, content nobody knew was there.
  • Social Networking is the latest craze.  Again, lots of traffic, lots of content, lots of eyeballs, all never seen before yet pouring uncontrolled through a new vector.  Who owns that content?  That’s not the question really, it’s who can harness it.  So far though, this is proving difficult.
  • Search – Google really is king right now, yet owns no content and no pipes.  Search has proven to be the ultimate vector because it is so easy to monetize relative to others, and Google remains king because of it.

It is innovation that is king of the internet, content will always follow innovation.  Why?  Because the internet is not about producing new stuff nor is it about bigger and bigger pipes, it is about enabling new vectors between content and eyeballs – the rest are just consequences.  Invent a new vector, and you too might be king.  For a year or two anyway.  Valves get replaced frequently, and *that* is the threat the cable companies face, because they are a valve.  They used to be a disruptive one that played havoc with broadcast TV, but that was then.

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Categories: Content Distribution · Internet Backbones · Internet Traffic

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6 Comments So Far

  • tech101 says:

    The idea reads intuitive and enlightning.


  • “Search – Google really is king right now, yet owns no content and no pipes. Search has proven to be the ultimate vector because it is so easy to monetize relative to others, and Google remains king because of it.”

    Google has a ton of dark fiber across the US and is investing in a major undersea cable.


  • Rob Powell says:

    Yes, I’ve heard that Google is doing these things thanks for the clarification, but I would say that it is more for future plans. Any fiber they now have is not really part of why they came to be the ‘king’. 🙂

  • FAC says:

    An interesting analogy, Rob. Your use of water flowing downhill, I mean, a classic form of imagery used in describing the Taoist principle of wu wei. However, in my opinion neither water nor pipe nor valve can be crowned king in the context you are ascribing here. The throne in this case is reserved for gravity.

    Consider, New York City’s drinking water supply comes from upstate watersheds and travels more than a hundred miles through tunnels and pipes. It’s all gravity fed without the aid of a single pumping station, although there are some very large valves used for emergency shut-offs and for keeping brackish water from entering the supply from the Hudson River.

    And yet, if you’re living below the fourt floor in a building in NY City, water is being delivered to you courtesy of Sir Isaac Newton.

    Extending your analogy one step further, gravity can be likened to the very essence of the need we all have to communicate. We, the end user population, are king, as it were. So let’s all of us take a bow, everybody. Let’s all congratulate ourselves.

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