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2004 World Technology Awards Winners & Finalists
Please describe the work that you are doing that you consider to be the most innovative and of the greatest likely long-term significance.
My company developed Weed, a file format that allows digital media content to be freely traded over the Internet. Instead of trying to prevent file sharing, Weed encourages it by rewarding file-traders who purchase files and share them with others who also buy them.
Weed is based on two key insights.
The first is that file trading shouldn't be viewed as a threat to the entertainment industry -- we see the file-trading community as a highly efficient distribution channel lacking only an effective method of collecting and allocating revenue.
The second insight is that it often makes more sense to reward people for doing the right thing than it does to punish them for doing the wrong thing. Therefore, Weed pays people who buy music and share it with others who also buy.
This brings dedicated file-traders into the revenue equation, and recognizes their contribution of distribution and promotional resources. As a result, all participants in the process end up working on the same side and progress becomes possible.
Initially, we thought of Weed only as a solution to a problem -- the problem of unauthorized distribution of media files. But the more we work with the idea, the more interesting it becomes in terms of its power to change and expand the market for digital media.
There are two ways Weed alters the current model for music retailing.
1. Weed significantly lowers barriers to entry. By reducing the cost of replication and distribution of media content to zero, even the smallest sales volume can be profitable. We think the next big thing will be a whole lot of little things.
2. Weed decentralizes the market. The most important consequence of lowered barriers is that anyone can participate, either as a buyer or a seller -- or often as both. This leads to a greater diversity of voices, and a greater degree of experimentation and innovation.
Every step forward in the distribution of media content, from radio to television to the Internet, inevitably leads to a change in the content that is delivered. Weed exists to lower barriers and increase diversity so that Internet distribution can move forward. Our goal is to open up new channels, to enable more people to have a voice, and to have a positive impact on the way creative people express themselves.
John may be best known for his role in the award-winning 1996 documentary Hype!, which still turns up on high-numbered cable channels from time to time.
The film investigates the media prank turned pop culture phenomenon that came to be known as grunge music. It highlights John's role as one of the movement's few unrepentant instigators.
As the grunge music media frenzy crested in the early 90's, John concluded that his unique skill set would be most valuable in the field of advertising. However, John was quickly disappointed by the constricted thinking he encountered.
Taking a long-term view, he became fascinated by the opportunity to develop emerging communications technologies for commercial purposes. Initially, this led to a series of experiments with new media, including sponsored videocassettes and the distribution of interactive brochures on floppy discs.
When the Internet emerged as a commercial medium in the early 90's, John co-founded Brazil Design Group (aptly named for Terry Gilliam's dystopian comedy). In 1995, Brazil Design developed the marketing campaign for the launch of Real Audio 1.0 which became the most successful software introduction to date. Most of Brazil Design Group was then absorbed into RealNetworks.
John remained a digital media consultant until 1998 when he was hired by Microsoft Research to work on the development of Microsoft Reader, Microsoft's e-Book software and a forerunner to Tablet PC. When the group's focus shifted from the development of new features to content security issues, John chose to leave.
Upon leaving Microsoft in 2000, John worked as Internet Director for Maria Cantwell's successful US Senate campaign.
Shortly thereafter, John and his friend Tom Lindeman developed the idea for Weed and together they founded Shared Media Licensing. The Weed software was launched in December of 2003.
John's role as President of Shared Media Licensing is the culmination of a career that has consistently promoted innovation in music, marketing and technology.
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