‘The Web We Lost’

I just posted a quote by Anil Dash from his fantastic post about the way things were on the web, but I love this bit from Jason Kottke commenting on Dash’s post:

The thing that really irritates me and deeply disappoints me about Twitter specifically is that the people who started that company and those who now run it know this. They know exactly what Anil is talking about. They railed against big companies trying to control the web back in the day. And they don’t care anymore? Are they just out for themselves and the money?

I have used the piss out of the web since the day I got an AOL account, but I was never deeply involved in the web when I started. However I would guess that VC funding of small startups that become massive investments was much more rare back then. There were certainly big things going on, but not as many small things trying to be big as there are today.

If you remember that, you can understand where and why the web is the way it is today.

Let’s forget about Facebook and Twitter for a moment and pick on Marco Arment instead. Imagine if Instapaper had launched with VC backing? Well, actually, just look at Pocket.

Pocket is the free equivalent to Instapaper and is even quite nice, but how does Pocket survive long term — where are they going to make money? Ads? Charge for an app when the user base is already huge? I’m not sure, but whatever they try isn’t likely to succeed because turning a free product into a paid one is very hard and putting ads on a service known for stripping out ads isn’t likely to work.

Now let’s look at Arment’s The Magazine — imagine if he had taken VC backing to launch that. We’d have a magazine with similar content and design (because everything starts out great), but the magazine would be free, not a paid subscription. Why charge for something at the risk of not getting maximum users, the VC’s would argue.

I’ll tell you why: it’s easier to lower the price later, than it is to raise the price.

And that, my friends, is the problem that faces the majority of the free services you use now: they sold out a stable business in their chase for maximum users.

Users, remember, aren’t worth anything if either they aren’t paying you, or advertisers aren’t paying you to show crap to them.

Originally posted for members on: December 14, 2012
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