Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, Chief Swine Defender (his real title) at BreadPig, just gave the second of three keynote addresses on the first day of SXSW in Austin, Texas. In it, he laid out a well-worn yet important argument: that the Internet needs to stay open in order to realize its potential to help humans by giving informational access and entrepreneurial opportunity to more of them than the pre-digital world ever could.
Invoking Amanda Palmer’s call for musicians to crowdfund themselves, lamenting Columbia Records’ treatment of the Chambers Brothers (of “Time Is Come” fame), and comparing the RIAA’s reaction to change (“lawyers and legislation”) to his father’s adaption to changes in the airline business, Ohanian then advocated that direct crowdfunding replace the label system.
It’s a well-worn trope by now, that the record and other copyright industries are too slow to change and are ruining things for everyone else with their silly insistence on copyright and other niceties. Right or wrong, this point could just as easily have come from SXSW 2003, or maybe even 1999, when Napster came out. But Ohanian’s claims were strong in a way, if only because: Here is someone, still saying this, on this large of a stage no less.
The freshest, most convincing parts of Ohanian’s talk weren’t about music, but rather opportunity, and the need for every part of the country and then the world to have its own digital constituency advocating for faster internet (like Google Fiber) and better access to information that will lead to more economic growth in those areas. Nevermind “location.” He wants access, access, access.
“It used to be someone had to give you some permission to innovate, but that’s changing,” he said during his solo keynote address on Friday afternoon. “It’s going to mean people being free to take chances and innovate.”
He made the point that the future could go one of two ways: faster, wider access to the Internet, even in rural places, leading to more innovation and economic growth, or restricted or spotty access, and with that less innovation and growth.
“Electricity and a fast Internet connection should be accessible, and once you have access, then it’s just getting the skills,” he said. “It’s going to mean people being free to take chances… If we get it right, the Internet can provide the place where good ideas can win, and we can hear from people we haven’t historically heard from.”
Here’s the official description, which mentions the slideshow from the beginning of the talk:
Erik Martin (GM, reddit) and Alexis Ohanian (cofounder, reddit) crowdfunded a bus, the Internet 2012 Campaign Tour bus, to collect, document and share stories throughout the American heartland. I’m going to share the stories we heard from Denver, CO to Danville, KY — with pictures — because the open internet is something all Americans cannot do without.