Thursday, October 27, 2005

Orifice manoeuvres

In a particularly incisive Wired article on the Motorola ROKR by Frank Rose, the thing that stood out for me was the neologism of using the word "orifice" to describe companies which use bottlenecks in distributed networks as their business model and thus stifle any innovation which could possibly relax those orifices, with the primary example being telecommunications carriers. The piece references (but doesn't link to) a Wall Street Journal article by Walter Mossberg which explores the same theme and also attributes the orifices quote to Steve Jobs.

At last month's D: All Things Digital technology conference, which I co-produce for The Wall Street Journal, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said he was wary of producing an Apple cellphone because, instead of selling it directly to the public, he would have to offer it through what he called the "four orifices" -- the four big U.S. cellphone carriers.

I can think of other examples of orifice manoeuvres (Rose's phrase, my preferred spelling). The four big Australian banks (CBA, NAB, ANZ, Westpac) come to mind, with the material passing through the orifice being access to capital. Licensed TV networks are a similar example, with the orifice being access to spectrum.

It has always bugged me that the ghetto into which technology reportage has been thrown is called IT&T, standing for information technology and telecommunications. These are two wildly divergent industries. On the one hand, you have IT which is fluid and dynamic, with small companies continually sprouting up to inject the lifeblood of innovation into its vibrant rainforest of ideas (holy mixed metaphor, Batman!). On the other hand you have the telco industry, where it's the same monolithic players that have been there forever and NOTHING ever changes. At the risk of exceeding my metaphor limit, how would you like it if a newspaper liftout about cars was dominated by articles about average road quality, internal squabbles between fluoro-jacketed roadworkers, and spooging over the latest thing in reflective lane markers? I know Michael Sainsbury does a great job at the Australian, but how many stories about Telstra can one man write? Give telcos their own ghetto and stop crowding out space which should be devoted to industries capable of innovation.

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