Tim Wu is the Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. He is best known for coining the phrase network neutrality in his 2003 paper Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination, and popularizing the concept thereafter.
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THAT WAS FUN! And much less random than my other AMAs. No duck questions. Thanks coming!
Fake news, propaganda, reality star politicians. We've reached a point where nearly every waking moment can be commercially exploited. How did we get here?
Book preview: https://medium.com/@superwuster/battleforclicks-eyeballs-4fb44e50daa5#.tc177opvt
Hi this is Tim. I guess we're starting soon
I recently listened to your interview with Ezra Klein on the history of antitrust regulation how do we promote a competitive environment that doesn't just use consumer price as its primary metric?
That is a GREAT question. We need to (1) appoint people who are not "price fixated" and (2) fund the economic research that produces non-price stuff that staff attorneys feel comfortable relying on
Do you think net neutrality can be reinstated if it's lost or will it be near impossible to reinstate?
The idea will always be around
How do I explain simply to people not working in tech that net neutrality is important? Many seem to easily accept the idea that it is only natural to pay more for bandwidth consuming apps e.g. Netflix so bandwidth limit etc are a good thing.
Why companies like Netflix, Google not trying to build ISPs/suspend their plans and the supposed free market is unable to stop advances from Comcast & ATT?
I find it easy but maybe it is who I talk to. The question is, do you support a rule that says that the Cable Companies can't block or downgrade stuff on the Internet.
Or, do you think there is a need to change the law so that Comcast or Verizon can make slightly more money?
On a personal level, what are a few of your favorite films?
Thanks. Lawrence of Arabia & Slackers come immediately to mind
More films: Chinatown. Raging Bull. I guess these are kind of dark. The Thin Man. Empire Strikes Back. Rocky I. Sideways.
This is a perfect troll question I would like to see answered :)
As it stands, premium delivery is a user-selected option that does not strike me as a major factor in competition among the vendors of goods
I would be concerned if...
(1) If there were evidence of limited bandwidth capacity in the delivery system, and evidence that UPS wanted to slow down mail generally to promote their "premium product"
(2) If UPS and Amazon charged vendors, not consumers, to have things delivered faster (i.e., charged Fischer Price to deliver toys faster than its rivals)
(3) If there was a sense that Amazon / UPS were likely to use premium mailing to entrench a monopoly incumbent
(4) If premium mailing had a discernible effect on the quality of the product once it arrived
Do people actually refer to themselves as "guru"?
I didn't write that!
In your last 2 books, you mentioned that networks/media oscillate between open and closed ecosystems over time.
Do you think, at the internet level, we have entered a closed phase of that cycle? And where do you see the next burst of open innovation coming from?
We are entering the closed phase most definitely. And unfortunately the largest platforms are showing signs of stagnation. I can't think of a way that Facebook has improved over the last 3 years that doesn't have to do with being better for advertisers
The next burst of innovation will come from where the barriers to entry are low. Unfortunately, sad to say, that is not the web right now.
But the Web is not the ONLY Internet application. I have some hope for Internet apps that are not web-based. They still need a platform, admittedly, which is the challenge. The question is whether someone will, say, invent a browser that sees HTML as secondary
Outside of the internet space, I think there is room in challenging the scale economics theories of the 20th century -- in other words, places were smaller scale production beats large. Craft beer is the model of that but there are others
I'm currently writing an opinion column for school regarding the way media's subjectivity influences the way they transfer news to the masses. Could you help me think of an eye catching/interesting title for the column please?
"News or Propaganda?"
So how is a person supposed to tell the difference between news and promotion? Are there any tell-tale signs that we're getting fed a line?
Once you learn to recognize it, it is obvious. The tip off is a story that reaches to include something that doesn't really seem germane to what is being discussed.
For example, when Jimmy Kimmel suddenly starts making unfunny jokes about Sunday Night Football: That's an advertisement
Dear Tim, Do you have (in your mind's eye) a moment when American society reached it's proverbial "fork in the road" leading us on this dark path?
That is an interesting question. There is a danger in always thinking that previous times were "golden" and now is dark. Nonetheless I do think now has an objective sense of darkness, where fear and loathing seem to be the currency of daily life.
On the question of whether America took a fork in the road. Here are a few candidates, one public one private:
In the 1990s, when progressives (myself included) were too sanguine about the effects of trade, various forms of deregulation and other policies on the middle and working classes. It was predicted and well known that inequality would result, but the argument that we needed a bigger pie that could then be redistributed. The redistribution never came. And led to the election of a demagogue.
Private: The 1980s - 90s, when corporate leadership at large lost any sense of noblese oblige -- a duty to the country and began to feel that their only real duties were to shareholders and maximization of executive compensation. I think this also led us to mass inequality, which I see as the root cause of most of what ails us today.
Thanks for doing this! A couple of questions:
1) Why do you think you performed better than your running mate in the primary against Cuomo and Hochul?
2) Who do you think represents the future of progressive politics in New York state?
On question (2) I'll say, for now, my former boss, Eric Schneiderman.
Decline to speculate too much on (1). Zephyr is an incredible campaigner who lifted me up. She had some random other candidates in the mix as well, and was also running directly against Cuomo who was, after all, the incumbent Governor. In retrospect it is incredible she did as well as she did
How, if at all, did your exploration into advertising and attention inform your work at the NY AG's office?
Good question. Much of my work at the New York AG's office had to do with the advertising of broadband speeds by Time Warner cable.
Our office filed a lawsuit suggesting they were deceiving consumers about the speeds actually delivered. Read the complaint if you have a min:
With a Republican in the White House, one would assume antitrust enforcement is dead, but Trump seems to be far more interventionist (starting trade wars, threatening private enterprises who cut jobs, etc) than traditional hands-off-the-market, laissez faire Republicans. Meanwhile, Obama's own Council of Economic Advisors conceded the US economy became more concentrated under his watch. Do you think antitrust could actually improve under Trump? If possible, please break out your prognosis for both the US economy at large vs the internet economy.
It is hard to predict anything related to Trump. My main fear is that if there is more enforcement, that it is arbitrary and capricious, based on the beefs the administration has with its perceived enemies.
There is some sense, already, that Trump wants to use the Time - AT&T proposed merger to "punish" CNN -- have it sold to someone who will do what he says. This is not the kind of antitrust policy that I support.
What do you think of publish or perish, and its impact on the quality of work done in academia?
Like most quantitative metrics, useful if used as a supplementary metric of progress, deadly if it becomes the end in itself
Are universities ivory towers that don't relate to the real world, or are they integral to society?
I've worked at many jobs, and I'm no longer sure what the real world is.
Actually, I think that some institutions should be at some distance from the world, like monasteries, universities, etc. There is something to be said for a society where people take years away from the demands of life to try and live in a different way and undergo training that is not all practical.
Hello Mr. Wu, thank you for the AMA!
The way we're going, what do you think the future holds? Do you think there'll come a saturation point when enough will be enough and anything that's manipulated or exploited for commercial reasons will not be tolerated, or consumed in the least?
One would hope. I am dying to see a new business model succeed. Well, Netflix has succeeded. So I want to see more like that
Your books so far have been a kind of examination of an entire industry through the history of a particular company. In Master Switch, it was telecommunications through Bell, and Attention Merchants was journalism through the New York Times.
What are some other companies that you consider fascinating enough that they could be the basis of a history for their industry?
No offense but I am sensing you haven't read the Attention Merchants. Check it out here
You can quite easily tell the history of the 21st century so far through the device Google, it is just such an inherently interesting company (even if maybe less interesting than 10 years ago, but still).
By the way, check out this preview of my newish book THE ATTENTION MERCHANTS https://medium.com/@superwuster/battleforclicks-eyeballs-4fb44e50daa5#.tc177opvt
I haven't read Attention Merchants so this may be in the book, but do companies like Google think of themselves internally as engaging in an attention economy? Do they have charts with the percentage of your waking life you spend exposed to their products?
Facebook's all-consuming metric is "time on site." That should tell you everything you need to know
On the question of whether America took a fork in the road. Here are a few candidates, one public one private:
In the 1990s, when progressives (myself included) were too sanguine about the effects of trade, various forms of deregulation and other policies on the middle and working classes. It was predicted and well known that inequality would result, but the argument that we needed a bigger pie that could then be redistributed. The redistribution never came.
Private: The 1980s - 90s, when corporate leadership at large lost any sense of noblese oblige -- a duty to the country and began to feel that their only real duties were to shareholders and maximization of executive compensation. I think this also led us to mass inequality, which I see as the root cause
Hi Tim just finished and loved Attention Merchants.
One of the things that really stuck with me is how the way media is monetized really has an influence on the content that media creates.
With that in mind, is there anyone out there (news, creative, or any type of content creator out there) who you think have really innovative ways of monetizing their content and simultaneously creat great content?
I'm interested in the Brave browser. The other, obviously interesting models are Amazon Prime and Netflix.
It is interesting to ask if there could be an Amazon Prime for good news (I don't mean the WashPost) -- that is, as a side benefit of something you pay for, you also get good, ad-free news
Would you consider running for office again? I supported your run for lieutenant governor.
Never say never. I do have 2 young children right now, which is a limiting factor in near term. Political life is tough on children
What are your thoughts about running for office again?
As the saying goes, never say never