Four Pillars: Because Of rather than With: A very provisional post

Yesterday my predecessor, Al-Noor Ramji, was quoted as saying that Google was BT’s “biggest threat”. You can find the story here. The reaction from many commentators was similar to that experienced by my colleague, Sean Park, when he went public with AmazonBay; they ranged from “you cannot be serious” through to “there’s some truth in it”, tending to stabilise around “you may be right, but you’re far too early with it”.

A few weeks ago, there was talk about the BBC being one of the few global brands with the credibility to take on the Googles and Yahoos and eBays and Amazons of this world.

Not that long ago, Jeff Jarvis was talking about Enabling versus Owning and its impact in this space, and, more recently, on the concept of Everybody’s a Network.

One context I could put all this into is that of Because Of rather than With, as propagated by Doc Searls. I’m also leaning heavily on his Making A New World essay in Open Sources 2.0 when I write this, where Stewart Brand’s ideas influence Doc’s thinking on infrastructure.

My take on all the foregoing is this:

Because Of and With are states, states in time.

Because Of is about being commoditised, becoming infrastructure. With is about being differentiated, standing out.

Everything transitions from With to Because Of.

Companies start off as being With, and over time become Because Of.

Departments within companies start off as being With, and over time become Because Of.

Technologies start off as being With, and over time become Because Of.

This is a very difficult transition. Our culture and expectations in a post-Taylor post-McLuhan world are all about being With. The pizazz, the oomph, the “it” factor, all of this is assumed as being in the With state.

So when you’re a With (whether a company or a department or a quango) you push back at forces that are trying to make you a Because Of. That is your instinct and your natural reaction. Everything you’ve been conditioned to wanting to be is in the With state. So you try very hard to avoid becoming a Because Of, using various forms of enforced lock-in to try and stop what is inexorable.

Because Of has pizazz and oomph as well; it’s just a different pizazz and oomph from that we experience as With. It is important that we don’t resist this pressure, there’s a big mutton-dressed-as-lamb risk there. When utilities fight to be not-utilities, unintended consequences occur. Such as Sarbanes-Oxley.

There’s a lot of innovation in Because Of, a lot of creativity in Because Of, a lot of money to be made in Because Of. Provided we don’t resist the pressure to become Because Of. A good Because Of can become a great Because Of. A good With cannot even stay a good With, much less become a great With. Commoditisation.

As everything disaggregates and democratises and globalises, the pace at which With becomes Because Of has increased. So the lock-in battles have become more urgent, more passionate, more emotional. That’s what Net Neutrality and IPR/DRM and content/conversation and and and are about. Things that used to be With resisting the forces that are making them Because Of. And failing.

When productive activity happens at the edge between networks of people, the With space for corporates, for public sector institutions, even governments, is contracting. Sharply.

The decline of With and the growth of Because Of is inextricably and recursively connected with information and with information technology.
And we have to Deal With It.

Today technorati and flickr and facebook and and bebo are With. Over time, those that remain will become Because Of.

Note: Blogging is provisional, as Doc says. These are my musings, my thoughts on what I see happening in the world of information, and nothing more. Snowballs.

6 thoughts on “Four Pillars: Because Of rather than With: A very provisional post”

  1. Al-noor is absolutely on target regarding about Trust and Confidence:)
    in the end Microsoft will win


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