In a past blog we discussed the possibility of newspapers disappearing as a information source (or at least as a analog source). While not all newspapers are being thrown a lifeline, there’s something about that old saying… “what’s in a name.” The New York Times was all but assured of going the way of GM, when out of nowhere (south of the border actually) there arrived hope. The hope came in the shape of Mexican Carlos Slim Helu, considered one of the wealthiest men in the world, who controls (or owns it, depending on who you talk to) about 40-45% of the Mexican economy. Carlos Slim is viewed by some as a financial oligarch and by others as a source of pride. What ever may be the case, Slim is now the largest shareholder of the Times, after the Sulzbergers. What does this all mean? Who knows, maybe just like in the auto industry (Chrysler owned by Fiat, GM owned by the U.S.A Gov and Hummer owned by the Chinese) we will now start selling other “sacred institutions” to foreigners, governments or unions. Or maybe, newspapers have gone the way of the Dodo. Whatever the final outcome, the control of the new information conduits continues.
Just like the mythical stories of the Rothschild’s and their use of pigeons (to relay information about the results of the Battle of Waterloo) giving them an upper hand in the London Financial Markets. Information or the control of it, remains the ultimate prize for economic conquistadors. Carlos Slim’s fortune is based upon such control. From his monopoly on cell phone and land-line services (Telmex, America Movil, and TracPhone), Slim has focused on distribution control, not content. His iron fist approach to consolidating an industry is legendary (his equivalent would be John D. Rockefeller). Along with his uncanny ability to buy when others are selling, has made him an economic force equivalent to Warren Buffet or previously (before he became a philanthropist to the Democratic Party) George Soros.
I believe there is no doubt that we have arrived at the end of the analog information age. We are definitely in the digital information world and its here that I believe Carlos Slim is positioning himself. Regardless of the amount of information there is out on the Internet, the New York Times retains brand power. And with that, also comes credibility (if you don’t believe me, just ask anyone who they would trust more concerning the veracity of a news story, Joe’s info blog or the nytimes.com). I’m also going to put forward a prediction. I really believe we are coming to a top in the amount of (quality) information that is being produced, why, because we can only read so much. I don’t know if Carlos Slim believes that but he has said that he does not want to control content but the vehicles that deliver it (Carlos Slim builds monopolies and just like he did in Mexico, he might just attempt to do this here).
Now humans can only process a certain amount and lets face it, the amount of waste on the web is vast. But there’s another aspect to this, and that is the role of search engines, when someone types in a search entry, how many people go beyond the first page or the first 5 entries? If your website doesn’t come up in the first page, in all likely hood it will not be picked. Therefore, making sure your website is one of the first chosen is of vital importance. And its here that the NYTimes has a huge advantage, where nearly everyone of their major stories will come up first on a search (not to mention they are one of the top 5 on-line news sources). Something Mr. Slim has possibly taken note of.
So in an ironic twist, just like there is a shaking out in any industry, I think we will have the same thing happen with all forms of on-line official and homegrown news sources (websites, wiki’s, blogs, facebook’s and twitters). Now, it does not mean that these other sources will become non existent, it is just that they will become immaterial (I will go out on a limb and say 95% of the Internet will be irrelevant). So, as a limited processing species, we only can read and look at a limited amount of information and for a lot of our choices we rely on pattern (name) recognition to guide us through many of our decisions. In many ways we already do this, how many people have websites they look at everyday and only those? Therefore, information preservers and curators will be looking at many familiar names, just in a different medium. A medium that Mr. Slim would like to control.