The Nantucket Project

It has been a couple of months since I last posted here as I am in the process of transitioning my websites but I thought I’d go ahead and share a somewhat time-sensitive update. Late last month my wife, Linda, and I volunteered at The Nantucket Project (TNP), the fourth annual thinkfest held on the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts, where regular readers will remember we lived for several months during our sabbatical of a couple years ago.

As it turned out, we were already set to visit the island for a vacation through the good graces of friends who invited us to housesit their place while they were off-island. It was only after booking our flights that I realized the good timing of our visit coinciding with TNP. I applied for a fellowship since attending the event cost about $4,000 but did not get one; however, I was invited to volunteer and quickly signed up Linda also.

The theme of the conference explored the intersection of art and commerce and its resulting values. In addition to some cool, free shirts (pictured above), we also got to attend several of the sessions, including a surprise visit from Secretary of State John Kerry (who has a home on-island), and a surreal appearance by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange via hologram in real time from his asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

I also got to meet some very interesting people, including influential tech columnist Walt Mossberg (formerly of the Wall Street Journal), documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki (who interviewed Assange live), founder of the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conferences Richard Saul Wurman, copyright activist (and a founding board member of Creative Commons) Larry Lessig, and several others. Linda helped with event registration, I assisted with video production and we both had fun.

Free for a Fee

Whether you are a producer or a consumer of media content or both, you cannot afford to not read Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson. The editor of Wired and author of The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, Anderson has his finger on the pulse of creativity and commerce like few others.

As Anderson writes, “The new form of Free is based on the economics of bits, not atoms. It is a unique quality of the digital age that once something becomes [digitized], it inevitably becomes free—in cost, certainly, and often in price. And it’s creating a multibillion dollar economy—the first in history—where the primary price is zero.”

“The rise of ‘freeconomics’ is being driven by the underlying technologies of the digital age. Just as Moore’s Law dictates that a unit of computer processing power halves in price every two years, the price of bandwidth and storage is dropping even faster. What the Internet does is combine all three, compounding the price declines with a triple play of technology: processors, bandwidth, and storage,” Anderson continues.

Anderson is quick to point out the difference between free as in “freedom” (libre) and free as in “price-less” (gratis), i.e. free speech versus free lunch. Of the types of free (gratis) models, perhaps the most familiar one to readers is the “freemium” model, which is free to basic users and offers a premium paid version (think Flickr and Flickr Pro). The key to freemium is the Five Percent Rule: five percent of online users support all the rest.

To clarify an often-misquoted axiom, Anderson writes, “Commodity information (everybody gets the same version) wants to be free. Customized information (you get something unique and meaningful to you) wants to be expensive.” In other words, as long as there is a fee associated with its creation, information needs to be subsidized somehow.

Making a Difference

As I post my last entry of the year, I am reminded of an excellent book I recently finished reading titled Influencer: The Power to Change Anything. Rather than use this space to highlight its salient points, I instead am inspired to share some instances from my own life this year in which I was able to influence someone else’s life for the better.

Earlier in the year, my wife and I bought an Italian motor scooter called a Vespa. I was so enthused about the scooter that I posted an entry about it on a Vespa forum and included a picture of it. Much to my surprise, I later heard from someone in the Netherlands that they changed their decision about which model to buy based on my glowing review. Suffice it to say that I never dreamed I would help sell an Italian scooter in Holland!

Another example of influence comes from closer at home. On Christmas Day, my wife and I had her parents over for a special supper. After our meal, she and her mother got out the sewing machine to mend a garment and I gave her father a guided tour of the Apple iMac computer we got earlier in the year. He later informed me that as a result of my passionate referral, he went out the very next day and got his own iMac to enjoy!

I could share many other examples of the power of influence but these two seem particularly powerful to me since they involve relatively pricey purchases in the thousands of dollars. While I admit that influencing buying decisions isn’t as big a deal as helping change someone’s daily behavior, helping someone get a good deal does make a difference to them.