Entropy Gradient Reversals
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Fuckin A!

There is no doubt that the Philadelphia Decision will go down in Internet history as a tremendous victory for the <body BGCOLOR="#000000"> tag, and by extension, a resounding vindication of Netscape's bold move to break the virtual stranglehold of the needlessly restrictive HTML 2.0 standard. In addition to its crucial ramifications for Free Speech (a well worn Liberal code word for tit shots, as most Internet users are known to be functionally illiterate), many AOLers would never have learned how to create Wired-style colored homepage backgrounds without this historic legal confrontation.

CDA We had initially planned an entire issue of EGR on this momentous occasion, but got way too busy looking into animated GIF techniques. Thus, our most salient remark on the subject must remain the headline above, which -- though it has little to do with the rest of what follows -- is nonetheless, in our experience, sufficiently general to serve as a profoundly succinct commentary on a vast range of human aspirations and endeavors.

Fuckin A! On with the show.

We recently had the opportunity to meet a very interesting gentleman. This was at one of those precious Internet get togethers where everyone is so natural, unpretentious and open-minded it makes you want to join the Benevolent and Paternal Order of Elks. It's no use feigning ignorance; our records indicate that you have been to at least one of these gatherings.

This fellow was dressed in an impeccable Armani jumpsuit with a discreet blue ribbon pinned to the lapel. Apart from the electric purple polarizing aviator shades, the immense quantities of absinthe he was knocking back, and the gold chain tethering his pet lobster, he seemed an ordinary businessman. His card introduced him minimally as "M'Fisto" -- a naive affectation we thought at first. But on reflection, we're not quite so sure. Rather than prejudice the case or precipitate premature conclusions on the part of our readers, we will let him introduce himself in the conversation that unfolds below.

A Man of Wealth and Taste

M'FISTO: Ah yes, I've seen your Entropy thing. Quite intriguing, actually.

EGR: Great. I'll put you on the subscriber list. It's having a bit of a tough time breaking 200. A bummer, really, as I promised in early May that by now we'd have something like 3900 souls aboard.

M'FISTO: Interesting way to put it. Sure, put me on your list. So you're having trouble boosting the circulation, is that it? Pity. How much are you charging?

EGR: Well, we've played with the model quite a good deal and the thinking was that, given the nature of the market in the early going and all...

M'FISTO: I see. It's free then, is it? And you still can't get anybody to read it? That is bad.

EGR: Well hold on. With you, we're just one short of 200. That's hardly nobody! And some of these readers are, well, how do I say this? Quite opportunely positioned.

M'FISTO: Are they now? Well that means they can send you lots of eyeballs, as we say in the trade.

EGR: It should mean that, yes. But I guess they've been really busy lately. Internet World, PC Expo, you know. These folks are real movers and shakers.

M'FISTO: How many of them do you figure actually read your little "zine"?

EGR: I dunno. Five percent? Eight? And then there's a certain degree of pass-along -- but not much, really. Like I say, they're pretty important and all. They have other critical responsibilities to attend to.

M'FISTO: Is that right? They sound like a bunch of hosers to me. As for yourself, you're slaving your ass off -- not to mention risking it, from the one issue I saw -- for the delectation of what? Maybe a dozen people? Doesn't that strike you as, well... a grotesque misuse of resources?

EGR: It'll change. Wait and see. EGR is in this for the long haul. No compromises for the easy bucks.

M'FISTO: Easy bucks? Hah! You should be so lucky in your wildest dreams! But what if I told you I could help you make that 2 million number you bragged about a while back? I don't often make this offer, especially where there's so little on the table, but your case interests me. And you're right about one thing: there was Yahoo!

EGR: Well, gee, that'd be great. What do you suggest?

A Gilded Cage for the God They Made...

M'FISTO: First off, you need to get a little advertising on your pages. Nothing really fancy at first, just some bogus links to make it look as if you're interesting to the players. Everybody does it.

EGR: Advertising! No way, man. Uh-uh. That's not what EGR stands for. EGR is about The People. It's about a new peer-to-peer publishing paradigm...

M'FISTO: And Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Yeah, yeah, I've heard all this. I've even read some of your voluminous screeds on the subject at your other site. Tell me something. Why did you decide to do EGR in the first place instead of all that serious stuff you used to write?

EGR: Well, actually, nobody seemed to be reading it. 200 subs may not seem like much, but it sure beats the once-a-year query from some academic in Paraguay looking for footnote fodder.

M'FISTO: Really? How odd! So you mean that the Global Economy and organizational redesign via TCP/IP weren't packing the house? Why do you suppose that is?

EGR: Because these are complex issues that require a great deal of background explanation for folks who haven't previously encountered the core concepts?

M'FISTO: Cold, but getting warmer.

EGR: uh... because nobody really gives a shit?

M'FISTO: Bingo! You really are as sharp as people say! Course, it's too bad it took you over a decade to figure this one out, but still...

EGR: Look, you may be right, but that doesn't mean I have to go along. And I especially don't need to pander to advertisers. What little credibility I have left would be shot to ribbons.

M'FISTO: Credibility? I'm sorry, but do you really believe anyone is taking "Entropy Gradient Reversals" seriously? You can't be that deluded, can you?

EGR: Well, no. I mean, it is kind of a joke. Not quite sure how that happened, but yeah, I guess...

M'FISTO: C'mon! It's a one-man freak show! Forget this credibility and personal integrity bullshit. For once in your life, be honest. What you really want is what everybody else wants: too much money, terrifying power, and of course, the chicks.

EGR: That's utterly ludicrous! I'm not doing this for money and power -- or for "the chicks," as you so crudely put it.

M'FISTO: Then read my lips: you are a FOOL! Now wait. For god's sake don't start crying! Here, take this napkin and wipe your face. Try to have a little dignity. Sheesh.

EGR: It's just that...

M'FISTO: Yes, yes, I know. You've done the missionary routine for so long -- waved the flag, Fought the Good Fight -- that you don't know how to admit that you're just a plain old ordinary flat-out failure. You look at Marc Andreessen's face gloating at you from the cover of TIME and you think: "I'm twice his age and I don't even have personal servants yet." Am I close?

EGR: Yes, oh yes! But how did you know? How can you be telling me these innermost secrets about myself?

M'FISTO: Let's just say I get around.

The Nature of My Game

EGR: So tell me. How can I change? How can I get high-volume traffic on my website?

M'FISTO: It's a lot easier than you may think. I can help you with that end of things. Quite a bit, in fact.

EGR: And you say that advertising is the key?

M'FISTO: Precisely. Advertising is not about money, at least not at first. Who'd be nuts enough to pay you to reach 5% of 200 people? No, the real trick is instilling genuine confidence. If you carry advertising, it looks like you're making money. And if it looks like you're making money, people naturally assume you must be important. They give you awards and suck up to you. Then you start getting actual advertisers, and actual bucks, and then they really suck up to you. That's it. That's the whole thing.

You have to ramp up slowly at the outset -- a few bogus links here, a few more there, then a rash of them, then a flood. And of course, no company on the receiving end of such largesse is likely to complain. At first, they won't even know you're there. Once you start sending them some real traffic, they'll be glad you haven't yet hustled them for a paid billboard -- which is of course what you will do as soon as you can gin up the numbers on those hit counters.

And it doesn't really matter what you sell or service. Hell, look at the Fortune 500! Half their managements don't even know what they produce anymore. They pay million-dollar market research bills to find out who their customers are and what they want.

EGR: Well, you do make it sound pretty simple. But I still don't get it, I guess. I mean, I want the traffic, sure, but then it's kind of vague after that. Somehow, millions of people are reading EGR. OK so far. Then what? I go on Donohue. Maybe an interview or two with Geraldo or Larry King. Al Gore invites me to keynote a summit he's putting together on global warming...

M'FISTO: No, no, no! That's not how it works at all. Leave all that to me. You just keep cranking out that funny shit you write. Just make sure you keep it funny -- no getting serious all of sudden and breaking your editorial continuity. It's gotta be brand-consistent to be content. And you've got to work in more graphics. All this text, text, text. It's so boring. No wonder nobody reads your stuff. The real trick is: don't make em have to!

Oh yes: and never, ever get your advertisers' URLs balled up so they point at competitors' sites. That's the ultimate kiss of death for an e-pub like yours.

EGR: Wow, I never realized how all that worked. "Keep it simple, stupid." Is that the general idea?

M'FISTO: Yeah, something like that. You could do worse than to take a few pointers from Ziff's new Yahoo! Internet Life -- now those people really get it. Of course, they have all that TV Guide experience behind them. But listen: you sign this agreement I happen to have brought along, and EGR will be the next monster publishing hit. I can personally guarantee it.

EGR: Boy, that does sound enticing... But still, even if you can do what you say, I honestly don't know what I'd do with that kind of money.

M'FISTO: Well look, you wouldn't mind having your own private ISDN line, would you? Or maybe even a full-bore T-1? I'll bet you could use a little more bandwidth, eh? Couldn't we all.

EGR: Well, yeah, that would be kind of nice, come to think of it. You could arrange that?

M'FISTO: No problem. None whatsoever. Just have a look at these contract terms. Not really too much to live with, do you think?

EGR: Well, let me read through this fine print part... What's this here about "your immortal soul shall be forfeit upon termination of contract, notwithstanding any previous liens or liabilities"?

M'FISTO: Ah that, don't worry about it. Standard legal mumbo-jumbo. Besides, the term of the contract is your natural lifetime, so where's the downside?

EGR: I see what you mean. So, what else do I get? What about those super-high-end graphics and 3-D stuff? Can I get a contract with a Major Agency thrown in? And what about instant brand recognition? Is there some way EGR could become a Household Word overnight?

M'FISTO: I don't see why not. I've done that for several of my clients already. Funny about that -- had a lot of people on Wall Street really scratching their heads! They couldn't figure it out to beat hell, given that there really wasn't much there to begin with.

EGR:Gosh, this is sounding better by the minute. Say, why haven't I heard about you before? After all, I've been around this industry since before there was an industry. Is this some kind of new promotional thing?

M'FISTO: Promotional? Of course. New? Hardly. It's no mystery, really. You must've just been hanging in the wrong circles. Like the song says, "I been around for a long, long time..."

EGR:OK, hand me that pen. Just show me where to sign and how many times. And hey, if there are, like, any other specials you're running, you will get in touch, right? I've got a bunch of friends that might be interested in something like this.

By the way, do you give anything for referrals?

(With apologies to C.S. Lewis, Esther Dyson and the Rolling Stones.
All others pay cash.)

Entropy Gradient Reversals
All Noise - All the Time


Some of you have asked whether I'm still at IBM. Absolutely. Of course, the views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the organization as a whole. Just in case you wondered.


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                                     Entropy Gradient Reversals
                                     CopyLeft Christopher Locke


"reality leaves a lot to the imagination..." John Lennon

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