ESTHER DYSON: SWIMMING WITH IDEAS

By: Dave Astor

Tech Guru Talks About Print, Web Journalism



For Esther Dyson, accepting the New York Times Syndicate’s offer
to write a newspaper column was as easy as counting from one to
three.



First there was ‘Release 1.0,’ the influential technology
newsletter Dyson began editing nearly 20 years ago. Then there
was ‘Release 2.0: A Design for Living in the Digital Age,’ a 1997
Dyson book translated into 20 languages.



And now there’s ‘Release 3.0,’ the every-other-week column that
entered syndication just last month. The feature discusses the
impact of digital technology on daily life and on the world’s
social, political, and financial fabric.



Why a newspaper feature for the person Wired magazine called a
‘one-woman think tank’ and possibly ‘the most powerful woman in
computing’? After all, Dyson already has a schedule packed with
giving speeches, investing in start-up companies, serving on
various boards, chairing the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names
and Numbers (ICANN, which sets policy for the Web), and running
her New York-based EDventure Holdings company (which publishes
the ‘Release 1.0’ newsletter and sponsors conferences).



Besides, aren’t newspapers sort of, well, unexciting for a
digital authority? Dyson disagrees. ‘I like print, I like
newspapers,’ she says, noting that she worked for the Harvard
Crimson and Forbes as a young woman and has since written
freelance articles for other dailies and magazines.



The 48-year-old Dyson adds that doing a syndicated column allows
her to address a mass audience that includes everyone from Net
newbies to Web wizzes. In contrast, her monthly newsletter –
which costs $795 a year – is read by a smaller, more elite group
of tech and business insiders.



What writing approach will Dyson take with her newspaper
audience? ‘I want to make people think about what the Net means
for them – not abstractly, but by means of examples,’ she says.
For instance, in a column about how companies use the Web to ‘add
value’ to what they offer customers, Dyson described using her
laptop to check the number of frequent-flyer miles credited to
her for a flight she had just taken to Moscow.



Dyson is indeed a world traveler. The daughter of an English
physicist and Swiss mathematician spends about 80% of her time
away from EDventure’s office here in New York. E&P Online ended
up calling her in London for this story.



‘A lot of what’s going on [with technology] in the United States
is being watched so closely that the rest of the world tends to
be more fun and less obvious,’ remarks Dyson, who has a
particular interest in the emerging computer market of Eastern
Europe. ‘I like to look at stuff that people haven’t observed
yet.’ Dyson says she’ll use her globetrotting for column fodder
by exploring similarities and differences between various
countries when it comes to digital development and usage.



Her international reach is evident in sales of the new ‘Release
3.0,’ which has been picked up by clients in the U.S. and eight
other countries in Asia, Europe, and Latin America. The column,
distributed in English and Spanish, is available to print and
online subscribers.



Web syndication in general, of course, is more than distributing
a column to a site. ‘You can syndicate commerce,’ Dyson says.
‘You can syndicate chat. And not just in one direction.’



Dyson is optimistic about the future of newspapers as they
continue to place a foot in the digital world. She says people
feel a closeness to newspapers, online editions contribute to
‘community on the Web,’ and the ease of e-mailing an electronic
paper makes it seem ‘more alive’ to readers.



But Dyson – who includes her e-mail address at the end of each
column – adds that online papers also face challenges as revenue
sources such as classified advertising get ‘unbundled’ from the
core product.



‘I’m concerned with how real journalism will get funded,’ says
the columnist, who earned a B.A. in economics from Harvard in
1972. After a stint as a Forbes fact-checker and reporter,
Dyson learned the dynamics of the computer and software
businesses as a security analyst for New Court Securities (1977-

80) and Oppenheimer & Co. (1980-82). She purchased Rosen Research
and renamed it EDventure in 1983.



Today, EDventure’s conferences include PC Forum in the U.S. and
High-Tech Forum in Europe, and its ‘Release 1.0’ newsletter
covers the Internet, software, convergence, e-commerce, data
networking, and wireless communications.



Dyson is not that concerned about the increasing dominance of
some companies on the Web. ‘There’s still room for individuals,’
she notes, comparing the situation to how McDonald’s has a big
chunk of the food business but millions of people still cook
meals at home. ‘The non-commercial side isn’t as visible, but it
exists.’



And how long will Dyson’s syndicated feature exist? She doesn’t
know for sure, but adds: ‘I don’t plan to end the column any time
soon.’



Will there be a ‘Release 4.0’ project of some kind, some day?
‘Probably,’ replies Dyson. ‘But I don’t know what it is yet.’



If there is a ‘4.0,’ odds are Dyson will come up with it in the
water. She swims an hour a day no matter where she is.



‘That’s when I think about the column,’ Dyson says. ‘That’s when
I think about everything I do – and make the big decisions.’



***



NEW COLUMNIST’S HONORS, INTERESTS



Esther Dyson …



was named one of the 50 most powerful women in American business
by Fortune magazine … received Hungary’s von Neumann Medal
for ‘distinction in the dissemination of computer culture’ in
1996 … is listed as the 23rd most influential person in the
Russian computer industry (by ‘Russia’s Who’s Who in the Computer
Market’) despite the fact that she lives in New York … is
fluent in Russian … in addition to reading various computer and
business books, enjoys novels by writers such as George Orwell
and Graham Greene … recently read the autobiography of
Katharine Graham, former publisher of The Washington Post …
prefers perusing newspapers in print rather than on the Web but
is confident on-screen reading will get easier as technology
improves.



***



TWO EXCERPTS FROM ‘RELEASE 3.0’



‘Advertising on the Net can actually be counterproductive: many
traditional Net users despise advertising. Personally, I might
click on a banner now and then, but for the most part I hardly
notice the ads. Ads probably make an impression, but are they
cost-effective?

‘Instead of advertising, vendors need to add Net-based value to
their products and services. The opportunity for a vendor is to
enrich the product or service by interaction, not simply by
flashing a logo in front of eyeballs.’



‘I meet a lot of interesting people as I travel around the world
– everyone from the deputy mayor of Barcelona, who has created
one of the world’s most Net-centric cities, to a retired military
man visiting his aging mother on a Priceline ticket; from a
serial entrepreneur on his fourth company, to a scientist
wondering how to take an idea into a commercial application for
the first time.’



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



Dave Astor is an associate editor of Editor & Publisher

magazine who writes that publication’s weekly ‘Syndicate/News

Services’ section.
davida@mediainfo.com











(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

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