The Obama Administration is seeking to wrest the economy away from a depression while addressing several interconnected and growing crises.  Borrowing and taxing, we are creating jobs.  Redistributing assets, we are seeking health care for all, a reduction in greenhouse gases and an effective educational system.

And we’re seeking to do this in the midst of a profound transformation of society.

Old conventions are crumbling as our traditional vertical, hierarchical institutions are coming down.  The consumer economy and its evil twin, the free market, are greatly diminished.  The Obama Administration, as it seeks jobs and engages in crisis management, is not concentrating on what institutions might replace those that are disappearing.  At this point in the process, a little vision and a little money might go some way.

Global horizontalization is being driven in part by the rise of the Internet and cell phone technologies.  Conventions have emerged that allow the most visited sites to achieve the most visibility.  The most popular videos, blogs and presentations achieve success in part because there are web applications that allow those presentations that receive the most attention to be rewarded with an elevated status in the form of prime positioning.  At this time, it is all a rather entertaining kind of organized chaos, with an emphasis on the organization.

The time has come for the government to step in and enhance the rewards provided to website content creators who succeed in achieving long-term social goals.  The potential benefits are enormous.

There are three areas that can grow at exponential speeds, and they are serving both industries in crisis and citizen users of the web:  media, education and art.

Government funds can pay for news stories, lectures and art appearing in the form of videos and text on the web.  The more visitors and the more time they spend watching and reading a piece, the more funds the creators receive.  At a certain level, the amount of money dispersed to production operations decreases as it becomes clear that they have enough traffic to raise funds through traditional advertising.

The government can be seeding the amateur and professional production of news.  Print is disappearing.  Traditional media are withdrawing from the collection of high quality information.  By encouraging the collection and creation of quality content, the government would be creating a new set of institutions and making their productions available to all for free.  By receiving a penny for a visitor that stays a minute or more, a creator of a news piece has the incentive to go out and find news, make news or share news happened upon by chance.  The government, by funding a new news business, creates jobs, begins a new institution and offers high quality information to a population starved for high quality content.

Reward great teaching by making the work of teachers universally available.  Reward teachers by using a formula that takes into consideration the number of viewers, the relative popularity of their discipline and how well their viewers perform on tests.

Most classes will continue to be in person, but the government can fund the creation of videos of those educator-performers most adept at connecting with their students while successfully communicating the information.  Again, micro payments would be distributed as rewards.  Professors might work in concert with performers.  For example, trained actors could conduct scripts written by academics.  Interesting synergies might emerge.  A result would be a massive surge in high quality educational videos.  Students would arrive at testing facilities to take tests and receive credit for what they’ve been watching on the web.

With the government funding new institutions in media and education, American net users become the new consumer and decider of what they see.  The government rewards content creators based on web visitor behavior.  There are no government contracts, no lobbyists and no decisions on how to disperse assets.  This paradigm can be applied to the third area, art, where government funds could encourage a blossoming of content in several creative arts where work can be reproduced in digital format.

Consider that a dance troupe could produce a video that is viewed by a certain number of visitors, resulting in micro payments for the artists.  Amateur or professional musicians whose work is visited and revisited would find they receive payments for their productions.  Musicians and dancers working together would not seek a grant but would seek video production capabilities.  The government would have to choose which arts they would be paying.  The line between art and entertainment is not always clear.  But it would not be the government deciding who gets funded.  Traffic would mediate taxpayer assets.

Watercolor painting would not translate, but the comic arts, for example, could experience a dramatic rise.  The comic artists, tethered to disappearing print, could receive micro payments and experience an explosion.  At this time, fewer than 100 American comic strip and panel artists make a living.

Let the “wisdom of the crowds” spend taxed and borrowed money by rewarding individuals and teams producing high quality content in the areas of media, education and the arts.  We’d be spending our own money on quality productions, with no intermediaries between the consumer and producer.  The potential is vast.  Creativity could exponentially increase in areas languishing for lack of funding and attention.  The possibility for synergy is unlimited as educators, journalists and artists work together to produce pieces that have qualities of each.

Consider that we don’t actually categorize productions so that they have to be any one of the three.  It would only be necessary that a piece qualify for one of them.  Imagine news stories about artists, artists producing educational pieces and educators lecturing on the media.

Imagine a world characterized by what we have in common.

Let’s build new institutions by having government fund the web.


This entry was posted on Monday, March 2nd, 2009 at 8:16 am and is filed under 10-The Web, Art, Future, Society, Web. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
4 Comments so far

  1. Craig Heinke on March 3, 2009 8:39 am

    That’s an interesting idea. Another competitive idea I’ve heard (in the context of news, but it’ll translate to other areas) is requiring small payments for viewing, based on the iTunes idea. E..g., if a viewer wanted to read the NY Times today, they would pay a dollar by credit card–the key is to make the payment system very simple and easy.
    Of course, the benefit of the current system–or a government-funded system–is equality of access, regardless of funding.
    I don’t know what the final funding system will be, but it’s clear that the current system is breaking down.

  2. Karen P on March 3, 2009 12:17 pm

    While this propoasal speaks to the heart of what is wrong with this economy and this society,it is a dangerous proposition. How can people who count on the government for funding be free and ojective critics of that government?

    I do have problems with the so-called “free market” determining who thrives in the news industry, since a medium has to appeal to the lowest common denominator in order to make a profit and compete. We see the results in the proliferation of tabloids and infotainment over real news. Only the biggest and loudest media giants succeed, and most of them distribute so much garbage, we have to ask do they deserve to succeed?

    The same question about government funding must be posed for producing Art. A wonderful movie that talks about state-supported Art gone wrong is “The Lives of Others” which depicts artists being heavily censored and monitored. The timing of the story was shortly before the collapse of the Berlin Wall in East Germany. We’re not at that stage in the U.S. obviously, but it’s not too difficult to get to there.

    We’d all love to see the Internet offer free access to viewing or building a site, maybe with volunteer funding by viewers who can afford to pay for the things they care about and enjoy. But why is the only incentive to do it profit? If it were easy for anyone to go and build a website, content could remain diverse without being profit and ad driven. Visitors determine which ones are worthwhile, but does popular always translate into better quality? And would this structure eliminate all the annoying popups, unwanted distracting ads, and ridiculous pornographic huckster-driven spam we all have to deal with now?

    Capitalism really doesn’t work well IMHO when people need to make money for providing nonessentials – in these times of hardship, we see how anything that doesn’t provide the basics for survival and relative comfort in a modern society is essentially superflous, with no guarantee of steady financial support. That’s why we have to put up with incessant marketing nearly 24-7. But why should we?

    Not only is Government backed media at serious risk of being propaganda, but Government-sponsored education is always at risk of being skewed to tell students a certain story from a certain viewpoint. How long did it take before American History taught in Public Schools included the history of African Americans, Native Americans, and the women’s suffrage movement? How do students currently learn about controversial movements and events like the brutal bloody history of labor unions, The HayMarket riots, Socialists & Anarchists, the McCarthy Red Scare and blacklisting, the dozens of minor wars our country has declared on weaker countries in the 20th Century or the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima? The stories of folks like Emma Goldman, Sacco and Venzetti and Eugene Debs are important, but we don’t hear about them from public educators.

    Another alternative, which is more democratic albeit more difficult, could be to create local cooperatives that support their artists, students and journalists on a local level. Grassroots support of ideas, art and news keeps it true and independent.

    If I am missing your point, let me know, but those are the images that come to me when I read your post.

    I agree we do need to ask ourselves what type of economy could support projects and ventures that improve the human condition and contribute to the greater good, but this should not depend on profit or support by the state in order to survive.

    Your idea could work well with private Grants or a general Federal grant provided to local (city or community level) governments… that way websites are supported by people in the provider’s community and can distributed globally.

  3. Andrew on March 3, 2009 2:20 pm

    To give an example, there are tens of thousands of comic strip and panel artists around the world, perhaps 200-300 making a living in the West. The problem is that a humor or life style niche in any particular geographic market is too small to support unique frames of reference. So, only comics serving a common denominator of humor or sensibility make it to print.

    This model, let’s call it the Aesthetic Economy instead of the Consumer Economy, allows for artists, educators or journalists to gather a following of niche sensibilities from across the world with no geographic boundaries. A comic artist specializing in jokes focussed only on how our health care system has failed us might be able to make a living from the hundreds of thousands of people in that industry.

    Though the government pays the bill, the people decide. The government is really only the collector and storer of fees to be reimbursed in this proposal. Site traffic decides who gets paid.

  4. Robert M. Katzman on March 11, 2009 3:32 pm

    Andrew, a fascinating article. Too bad you have to do something else to make money.
    the poem I sent you today is very much the death knell of the old order of retailing. The emotion it screams is the cry of the bewildered store owner staring into the abyss of his future.
    What do we do now, those of us who represent the past? Gather us up and put us in antique prairie villages where people still talk to each other, in person, and where you need a cash register to sell something to someone? I am in the inbetween purgatory of still being vital and seeking a challenge tomorrow, except I don’t speak the language of the land anymore, and the young ones find me, and my kind…quaint. I am still valuable, but maybe not here. But where?

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