Are Conservatives Being Left Out of Web 2.0?
Media Bloggers Association president Robert Cox believes the recent decision by YouTube to ban Michelle Malkin may be a canary in the proverbial Web 2.0 coal mine.
Some might note that Malkin can still host her videos elsewhere. Of course she can, but that would fail to understand the powerful forces of “network externalities” at play online. There is no Avis to eBay’s Hertz for good reason: Once an online network is fully catalyzed, there is no reason to join an alternative network. If you want to get the most money for your Beanie Baby collection, you are going to want access to the most potential bidders — and that means eBay.
YouTube is poised to become the eBay of video file sharing. If you want the biggest audience for your video, you want access to the most potential viewers — and that means YouTube.
Google understands this dynamic, which is why the company announced Monday that it will purchase YouTube — a company that has never made a dime — for $1.65 billion. YouTube fits very well within the Google online media portfolio. The company already owns Blogger.com, the most popular blog hosting site online, and Google News, which in two short years has become one of the top news sites in the world.
Don’t think it matters? Consider that, according to USA Today, 98 percent of the money donated to political parties by Google employees — “Google Millionaires” — went to Democrats.
But it’s not just Google’s media and financial muscle that benefits the left. Liberals run the leading blog search engine — Technorati. They run the leading blog software manufacturer — Six Apart. They invented two of the most important blogging technologies — Podcasting and RSS. The list goes on and on.
Perhaps my technical knowledge is insufficient to imagine the possibilities, but I don’t see how it much matters who invents certain technologies. If the people behind Six Apart decided they wanted to stop conservatives from downloading their blog software (which would be an insane business move) they still couldn’t dictate the content of what was on the blogs already using Movable Type. It would, conceivably, mean conservatives couldn’t download upgraded versions but that would simply mean living with current technology or moving to one of many competitors. Ditto Podcasting and RSS technology.
Much more problematic, though, are the market leaders that actually control the means of distribution. YouTube’s decision to ban certain viewpoints does in fact alter the ability of one side of a debate to get its message out. Similarly, Digg and many of its emulators are dominated by cabals who work together to push certain stories up to the front page or suppress them. If there’s a strong ideological bias to those dominant cliques (and I have no reason to think there is), certain viewpoints get advantaged.
I’ve personally experienced the frustration Malkin did when running up against seemingly arbitrary decisions by these behemoths and discovering that they won’t even deign to offer an explanation. Last November, I discovered that several blogs I was running on Google’s Blogspot site had suddenly disappeared. Click the link at left for a detailed discussion of my futile attempts to get an explanation, let alone recover thousands of manhours of work. Then, in January, OTB stopped being archived on GoogleNews along with hundreds of other blogs. My attempts to get an explanation were similarly fruitless.
Google has competitors in all these fields, to be sure, but they are by far the market leader. Their ability to act with impunity makes them incredibly powerful. Most people access blogs, and Web content in general, almost exclusively via search engine and aggregator referrals. Viewpoint based exclusion from these gateway sites gives their owners incredible power to frame the public debate.