I used to work near a man who would proclaim “The web is business!” as he strode through the halls. That man was wrong.
The web and the Internet aren’t business. They are tools. They are a medium. They are opportunity.
Opportunity comes in many flavors; the rising tide of jibber-jabber these days is all about putting business on-line. Somehow, the net is now real, now legitimate, now alive. I snort in amusement, dear reader. I actually snort.
The fact is, with very few exceptions, e-business never packs the impact of the independent content producer. These are the people who are pushing the boundaries, harnessing the power of the web, and building the things people want and need.
No one throws large amounts of money at them, and the stock market doesn’t rise and fall on their pronouncement, but they are the heft, the substance, and the texture of the web.
They are what makes the web go. That hasn’t changed.
Like the individuals they are, their contributions are varied: some catalog the strings of the web, while others spin breathtaking tales. People are building communities and raising awareness. They share their tools, their ideas, their passions, and their dreams.
These are the people who make a difference.
I want you to make a difference.
You don’t get paid to do it. No one is going to hand you a golden statuette. You won’t make any money from it. There’s no IPO for doing good in the world.
For that is what you will be doing if you accept the challenge: doing good in and for the world. I want you to empower and entertain people. I want you to teach and to guide and to learn. I want you to contribute. I want you to give back to the web, thereby giving back to the world.
It is your opportunity to create and build without the interference of an employer, a client, a patron, or a censor. We live in an unique time: we can skip the middleman and connect directly with individuals we would never meet in the normal course of life.
Our words, creations, ideas, experiences, and tools can reach the world directly. Individuals connecting with individuals: It’s a remarkably potent concept in theory and in implementation.
It can change your life. It’s certainly changed mine.
My grandmother is grateful
The first time I experienced it was almost six years ago. The e-mail arrived from a university in the Balkans. “My grandmother,” it began, “is very grateful.” The student who wrote me had gone to a meta-index I was maintaining, and found several links to information and pictures about dolmen and megaliths from around Europe.
He had printed them out for his grandmother who had been fascinated by a small megalith cluster near her girlhood home; the war and the arrival of the Russians had removed her hopes of going to college and studying them. Information was scarce in her small town.
She had thought often about these stones and had told her children and their children about them, recounting the legends, weaving stories around them, and always wondering about them.
He took the pages home with him, and struggled through a translation for his grandmother, who was finally learning what the professors and the enthusiasts thought about the stones she loved. Questions were answered (not always to her satisfaction), suspicions confirmed, and new ideas implanted.
It is difficult to explain the kind of rush you get when, in even a small way, you touch someone’s life like that. It is gratitude and inspiration and pleasure all bundled up in a mad rush.
That sense of making a difference comes in many different forms. It’s in the quiet compliment on a distant website, it’s in the joy of collaboration, and it is in the sense that you have helped someone out or changed them in some way.
Being an independent content producer does involve some sacrifices. You’ll have to have the tools to access, use, and create for the net. These tend to require a financial outlay.
Since most of us aren’t independently wealthy, we need Real Jobs [TM] to subsidize this. This also means that you will have to spend some of your precious spare time on this. Consider it a public service.
I’m asking you to share your content with the world. No profit models. No subscription fees. No ca-chings. Just you, your passion, and your world.
50 ways to leave your mark
Independent content comes in many guises: a bit of code that transforms the way people can - and do - use the web. An explosion of creativity. A community wrapped around an idea or a product or a passion. A directed guide to some corner of the web. An update on your pregnancy. The simple power of the truth.
I could go on forever.
Have you ever wanted to create a typeface? Have you figured out a quick way to strip paint from a 60 year old chair without harming detailed carving? Do you know a lot about the shape of commercial bottles?
Try it. Tell us. Share it.
What are you passionate about? What are you interested in? What would you really like to see on the web? Stop wishing, and start doing.
I’m writing today to challenge you all. Isn’t there something you’ve always wanted to do — or to see — or to try? Do it.
There’s a lot of concern expressed in the past few years about how it sometimes seems that business is taking over the web. I’m here to tell you that it just isn’t true. I’m also here to tell you that you can ensure that it doesn’t come true.
The power to empower
What ultimately attracts people to the web is the power of the individual to inform, entertain, and empower. People are far more likely to forward the URLs for StinkyMeat or the latest price list for early American art glass to their pals then they are to forward the URL for an IBM or a Coke.
One of the most interesting groups on the web are the geneology enthusiasts. Their shared passion for studying the past has gone beyond populating their own family trees. In small groups and large, information is shared freely, help given generously, and connections made daily.
It’s not uncommon for one person in South Carolina to go to her local courthouse to look up a name or date or a deed for someone in Seattle whom she’s never met.
It gets better. People are transcribing census rolls, church rosters, ship manifests, obituaries, letters, and all sorts of old documents and putting them on the web. They share their experience and their expertise, and they transform the ways people can find and access information.
It’s a remarkable community and it is a community that has a much bigger impact then the loudly celebrated pets.com or iVillage will ever have. Members of the community occasionally will contribute a few dollars to improve a server, or upgrade a database, but by and large, these services are free.
It isn’t about the fame or the money, it’s about empowering, enlightening, and entertaining the people around you.
Dance for those who can’t
So this is my challenge to you: share your knowledge, your expertise and your experience. Go beyond the mechanics of the web. Go beyond the pixels and browsers. Express yourself.