I Had A Dream: I Was Riding In Steve's New Jet...
February 14th, 2000 

Gulf Stream Dream

I had a dream that I was a big shot on Apple's board of directors instead of a lonely trader sitting in front of my trusty Mac. Actually, with my acerbic and introverted personality, I probably wouldn't survive a minute with the likes of Steve Jobs or Larry Ellison, but in my dream that wasn't a problem. I weaseled a ride with Steve cross-country on his new Gulf Stream jet, a perfect opportunity to capture the headman's ear.

First I wanted a stiff drink from the flight attendant, although with Steve drinking only sparkling water I was too intimidated to ask. Oh, what the heck, I'm on the board of directors, right? I'll have a Manhattan, make it a double.

Steve, of course, stays busy during the flight taking phone calls from national leaders, approving documents and working out in the onboard gym. During a free moment I ask him what's up with Apple's marketing, specifically with Apple's advertising campaigns.

In real life Apple must have big unannounced plans for later in the year, but in my dream, Steve mumbles something like, "I don't know, what's wrong with Apple's advertising today?"

Glad you asked, Stevio!

Knowing Steve likes the direct approach I mustered some courage and laid it on the line…"The Think Different ad campaign is stale and seems increasingly pretentious, even exploitative," I told him. "You know, Steve, there is a youthful, idealistic fringe of our society who look askance at the behemoth Think Different ads, and, ironically, they are the same people Apple directed these ads towards."

Einstein and Gandhi never used computers, and if they were alive today Gandhi would eschew computers altogether and Einstein would probably be modeling the time-space continuum on a 256 microprocessor super computer.

Steve said, "That's not the point. Of course Gandhi never used a computer, but, like Gandhi, Apple is following a different drummer to a higher calling."

"OK…," I counter, "but isn't it true that Apple is really a multinational business with purely capitalistic goals and objectivist leadership. Borrowing Gandhi's image implies Apple shares the same social revolutionary values with Gandhi when, in fact, Apple does not. So the ads are at least on one level--the physical level of the material world--a lie!"

Unperturbed, Steve replies, "Yes, but on a higher level, Apple as a corporate being is striving to liberate the world from the poverty, both intellectual and physical, of the industrial age. Personal computers are a force for freedom everywhere, especially when the PC's power is exponentially amplified by the Internet."

I mumbled something about how targeting the creative genius population seems too narrow of a market share to support long term growth for the company. Especially in the case of the iMac which is more of an Everyman's machine. I doubt the average Joe is impressed with Apple's humorless attempt to borrow some authenticity from the likes of Janis Joplin or Dr. Benjamin Spock.

Steve, shaking his head, replies, "Apple is a minority platform, if everyone who sees themselves as different from the mainstream culture at their job or school or even in their family buys a Mac as an affirmation of their difference, then Apple will do just fine."

"If you're going to twist history into a 5th dimensional torus, why not go for a laugh? After all, fruit colored computers are fun," I babbled on. "I want to see Apple ads with John Hancock composing the constitution, not because he had the best handwriting in the Colonies, but because he had a PowerBook G3! Or Edison modeling light bulb filaments with his G4 supercomputer. Let's go nuts…. Why not Paul, while editing an iMovie of the Last Supper on his iMac DV, discovering that Judas secretly sent an encrypted e-mail to the Centurions wirelessly from his iBook?"

Steve with a bored look replies, "Apple's think different ads are serious because we respect these heroes and enshrine them as role models, not to poke postmodern fun at them."

OK, so Steve's getting irritated with me now. Still the facts speak for themselves. Apple has the money, but no large new marketing campaign. What's up with that? Expanding the market share to new users will come mostly from word of mouth till Apple comes out punching with a strong image for 2000. Apple doesn't need to change its image - it just needs to get the message out.

Apple's iTools is not Thinking Different.

I really gave Steve an earful on his Internet strategy in my dream…

Actually, there isn't a darn thing really wrong with iTools, it's just so insanely mediocre! If it were Gateway's site, I would applaud it as a paean to Midwesterner blandness. The only dubiously innovated thing about iTools is that Apple has found a way to make online services available elsewhere for free exclusive to the Mac OS 9 platform.

The problem is one of expectations and approach. We expect great things out of Apple. We expect Apple to think differently. We don't expect Apple to just meekly join the conga of e-commerce at the back of the line!

We expect Apple to revolutionize the way corporations interact with consumers online.

Why? Because Cupertino has instructed us to expect Apple to think different. Maybe, I'm just naïve to believe Apple's hype, but I think not. Apple has a long and noble history of radical innovation in the fields of computer hardware, software and even in corporate style and employee relations. The Internet is merely the next big challenge for Apple to tackle.

But Apple hasn't thought creatively about the web. It hasn't grasped that as a corporation what separates Apple from Dell or Compaq or General Motors is the spontaneous outpouring of affection for this company. Mac users bond like members of an elite club. Their loyalty is the stuff of legends.

A concept like "the Mac Faithful" isn't marketing propaganda. The greatest ad agencies in the world can't create the kind of grass roots goodwill for their clients that Apple has organically---and unintentionally--generated among its users. Apple's fanatically loyal user base makes it unique among corporations. The phenomenon is worthy of study at the university level.

Apple's greatest untapped resource: You!

Apple already has a huge online Mac community. This rag tag army of Mac Users is among Apple's less appreciated assets. Nothing comparable exists for any other corporation in the world. There is no Dell Observer or iPaq.com. Most companies have to pay shills to say nice things about them. That's Microsoft's approach to the Web and TV - just buy the media.

The list of Mac specific web sites and the amount of traffic they see remains untallied. Most of these web sites are entirely unsupported by Apple and many are even reviled by the company as a source of misinformation and leaks. (Read: Apple has no control over the content of these sites.)

Macsufer, MacInTouch, AppleInvestors, Go@Mac, Macville, The Mac Observer, Applelinks, MacBuy, MacWeek, MyMac, MacGameGate, MacSpeedZone, Macuarium, the Mac Night Owl, Mac Central, Mac OS Rumors, Apple Insider, Apple Recon, Mac Opinion, O'Grady's Power Page, Macwebsite, MacMind, Architsoh, PowerBook Central, MacNN, Kaleidoscope, Etc.., Low End Mac, MacMilitia, MacSimple, InsideMacGames.…the list goes on and on.

Apple doesn't need to build a web presence as if they are all alone. There is a wild, woolly and wizened Mac tribe wandering aimlessly in the desert of cyberspace. What the online Mac community lacks is gravity, a center, a sun to orbit around.

Surely if Apple were really thinking different about the web they would imagine a way to actualize the intrinsic value of this unorthodox asset. Of course, it would demand a really innovative approach. It couldn't be business as usual. Old ideas about the separation between manufacturer and consumer, stage and audience, or state and religion must be scrapped. Something epic, something transforming is needed. Something that reflects the new values of cyberspace and taps the tremendous power latent in the Internet.

Open source is a big idea.

That something is the entirely different way of thinking that the open source movement represents. The open source model of networking, when expanded beyond its original definition as a way for programmers to share work on software by opening the source code, is really the basis for the first new philosophy or culture to emerge on the Internet. In the future, the open source model will find applications in other fields well beyond the arcane domains of the code warriors.

The essential spirit of the open source movement is simply the sharing of a task or problem over the Internet with the entire world. The resulting solutions are often unanticipated and achieved much faster than problem solving by a small local team. Of course for programmers there is a much more detailed definition since open source also represents an entirely new model for copy writing content as well as code.

Open source works because it harnesses the power of the Internet in a way that is unimaginable in a pre-networked world of antiquated copyright laws and patent hoarding. The collective intelligence of the net acts as an ethical judge, you aren't likely to receive much support on a project not perceived to be in the best interest of the community. Moreover, open source represents the closest thing to pure evolution--the engine of all innovation--that human culture has ever produced. In some ways the open source paradigm merges ancient values of tribal 'gift' economies with the emerging frictionless global Internet economy.

An Internet strategy by Apple should attempt to envision ways to use an adapted version of the open source spirit to unify the Mac community.

Successful companies in the 21st century will have to align their corporate self-interests with what's in the best interests of the community in a way that wasn't desirable or even possible in the closed world of proprietary corporate exploitation of consumers' lack of information and access in the 20th century. Consumers unified by the Internet alter the balance of power in the corporate/consumer relationship, rendering pre-Web styles of business conduct inadequate and even unethical in certain cases.

For example….

Cupertino could create an online Mac town square; an uncensored central market for Mac related ideas, products and destinations. If it were really fun and free it would probably end up being more like a Mac Venice Beach than an orderly town square complete with cyber bars, street hawkers and the virtual equivalent of fire breathing Mac roller-bladers.

Every voice in the Mac community would be available and from the cacophony would arise consensus legitimizing the power Apple wields over our interface with the world. Make no mistake about it, corporations are becoming more like sovereign nation states and the unspoken pact they had with their citizen-consumers through out the 20th century is morphing into something more akin to a bill of rights than a bill of goods.

It's not just about consumers' rights, Apple could put consumers to work. The doors to Apple's technical information library (TIL) could be thrown open to all end users, while encouraging experienced users to help Apple's engineers update and add to Apple's incomplete library. The TIL is the perfect place for tapping the power inherent in the Mac online community. Apple could get its tech library updated for no cost by Mac users whom, in the open source spirit, would happily write fix-it articles on known issues just because they can. Apple would moderate submissions for accurate content. As it stands now, the TIL is updated by Apple employees in their spare time for brownie points and much of it is off limits to the public.

iUtilities could be built to service your Mac from afar as online disk doctor. A scan of your hard drive could allow Apple to download new software updates to your computer. To keep Fred Anderson happy the scanner could offer upgrade purchases too.

The list of possibilities is endless, Apple financing could be offered online at the Apple bank. Discount deals for volume buyers could be managed at the online Apple factory outlet. Used Mac bazaars could be established based on the ask and bid system with guidance provided by an Apple blue book of prices. Service agreements could be sold online, Apple service providers listed and rated by consumers. Classes in everything from C++ to Photoshop and Flash could be offered at an online Mac university, while the talented could apply for grants, awards and scholarships. Art shows, iMovie theaters, software design competitions and Moof dog shows could broaden the appeal.

A Chemical Wedding

Apple needs an Internet strategy that blurs the line between the official corporate body and the community of consumers in a way that would rival AOL's visionary plan for your TV in its audacity. By appropriating the gestalt of the open source community, Apple could tap into the driving ideology behind the Internet and make the company relevant again to the future course of history. Ultimately, the amazing transformational power of the Internet is based not on mere technology but on relationships between human beings!

There are no precedents here, no guidance from history. It's up to Apple to create their own destiny (or accept their fate) and that destiny is tied irrevocably to chemically wedding the web and the Mac user community to the Apple Computer Inc. in a way that hasn't ever been imagined in the history of capitalism.

Apple may appropriate John Lennon's image to sell computers, but the type of youthful, all inclusive, free community of ideas (including heresies) Lennon represents doesn't jive with Apple's corporate approach to the Net. And darn it, it should, because if John Lennon were alive today he would embrace the power to the people delivered by the Internet. Apple as a company in the business of transforming people's lives should join with the spontaneous Mac community on the Web and change the way business is done forever more.

Oh, well, it was just a dream!

Your comments are welcomed.