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Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I've been slowly going through Chris Anderson's book Free: The Future of a Radical Price. There's a lot he gives you to think about and definitely a lot that relates to the Business of Learning.

There's quite a bit in the book that really resonates with me:

We can't help it: We value atoms more than bits.

Bits want to be free.

A common theme throughout the book is that people naturally understand the differences between bits and atoms. We somewhat intuitively understand that near-zero marginal cost is true for bits. Thus, they treat content delivered as bits as having less value than the equivalent atoms version.

Chris tells us:

It's time to stop treating bits like atoms and assuming the same limitations hold.

There's definitely a lot of questions raised by the book that will undoubtedly add to my thoughts around New Learning Solutions:

  • What are the versions of offerings that can have different prices?
  • Because of downward price pressure on anything that is bits and relatively undifferentiated, what are the ways that offerings can include other differentiating aspects?
  • Where can users add value back into the system?
  • What are network effects that we can leverage for greater value?
  • Where do network effects outside a single organization instance help drive value?
  • How do we effectively compete in the Attention Economy? (see Corporate Learning Long Tail and Attention Economy)

This will be fun to explore. Likely through my Free Blog and Free Webinars.


dreig said...

Thanks, Tony, for your post. I´m working on a presentation (in spanish) about Free and e-learning and I´ll complement it with it. Here are some initial thoughts and a graphic adapting Anderson´s to e-learning:

Read you soon again :)

Doug Hanson said...

I like this analogy of comparing atoms to bits. I think the only huge difference in people’s 'value' of bits is the fact that at no cost they can be copied and people don’t asses value to the intellectual property/time that went into those bits.

Nice blog post.

Tony Karrer said...

Dreig - Thanks for the pointer. Hope we can discuss a bit in English.

Doug - very well said! It's that we all know that bits don't really take anything to copy. There's also the fact that we believe there's so much other content out there - how do I know that this stuff is that great compared to everything else.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora e Tony!

This all seemed a bit ;-) obvious to me until I realised how insidious it is.

My family listen to NZ Radio a lot. Current affairs progs are now all available, free, as podcasts (bits) on their site. When someone misses a broadcast they wanted to hear, their dismay is ameliorated with, "I can always access the podcast".

Of course, this event rarely actually happens. So not only has bits reduced the value of some things, it also shelves the possibility of their use.

I'd already realised this was happening last century when people would stock up on videoed TV programs that they would never have the time to watch because they were watching the broadcasts - a time debt that was not able to be paid.

The same (actually) applies to reading blogs. As Sue Waters pointed out to me about indexing blogs, "people don't use blogs that way".

Because of 'bits', and the plethora of it, even bits are getting devalued.

Thanks for the lead to Chris Anderson's latest.

Catchya later