At the recent KMWorld '99 conference in Dallas I was able to spend some quality time with two of the key people behind a fascinating site, www.iqport.com. I loved the implementation and can see many advantages to the site, yet I found myself becoming withdrawn and belligerent, a state I usually only achieve either when someone says something nice about me or if other people are having fun.
Iqport.com enables people to post information objects for sale. If you find something you're interested in, you put it in your "shopping basket" and have the amount deducted from your account. The author is then credited that amount, minus a fee that goes to IQport. (The fee is much less than an author pays to a book publisher and less than the 50% that fatbrain.com--the Amazon of technical books--says it's going to charge for a similar service...undoubtedly to be offered by Amazon sometime soon.)
Don't be misled by the comparison to ebay. IQport isn't an information flea market--that's the position taken by inforocket.com. No, IQport is an alternative distribution channel for people who make money by selling information, including consultants, authors, financial services that publish reports, etc. Authors are encouraged to join "knowledge communities" which act as intermediaries and, in some sense, as publishers. For example, an industry association might form a knowledge community and approve any offerings made under its aegis.
So, what's my beef? It took me a while to admit that the more I talked with the site's representatives (Freddie McMahon and Penny Heyes), the more bummed out I was getting, and then it took me longer still to figure out why. It has nothing to do with Freddie and Penny who are perfectly lovely, bright and enthusiastic (although they ought to drop the British accents--we can do without that type of pretension here in the US of A).
No, it goes back to my hippie roots. You see, information wants to be free, man! In fact, information wants to put on patched jeans, take a few hits from the bong in my friend Skip's rec room and watch the Lava Lamp of Knowledge (you know, that lava lamp is really "deep," man) until the 'rents pull up in the driveway and suddenly you're spraying meadow-scented Glade all over the room until a rosewood incense stick turns the spray into a flame thrower which you let run for longer than necessary because the purple tongues of fire look like dragons and the dragon flames are themselves breathing dragon flames, like wow, man, until you realize you're scorching Skip's father's ophthalmology diploma on the wall.
Sorry, where was I? Oh, yes. From one point of view, IQport is simply giving professional publishers the ability to publish more efficiently and effectively on a truly global scale. From another, it encourages people who might otherwise have given information away to offer it for sale. The first is Good because it lowers the hurdle to publishing. The second is Bad because it raises the hurdle to information. In fact, the site is likely to do both.
So, I don't trust my negative reaction to IQport. It comes from the atavistic hippie in me. But it's the hippie portion of our brains that built the Web and that's preserved much of what's important about it. Am I suffering from the Peter Pan syndrome? Sure. But if you don't, you ain't ever getting to Neverland.
David Weinberger is publisher of the Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization (JOHO) newsletter and a frequent contributor to KMWorld Magazine.