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The Geek Tingle

The Geek Tingle

    Possibly the most geeky thing about me, if I can pick just one thing, is that I get all tingly when I hear about new business models. For example, I got a tingly feeling the first time I heard about iTunes. I get the same feeling every time I buy a book in less than a minute from Amazon.

    I’m also fascinated when an improved user interface causes an entirely new product to be created from something old. For example, auctions have been around forever, but eBay made it so easy that they created an entirely new way of doing business.

    I get shivers when I see stuff like that happening, and I don’t know why. Business models haven’t been around long enough to affect human evolution. I have to wonder what genetic defect I have that causes me to enjoy learning about business models as much as I enjoy food or laughing.

    Maybe you noticed a new button below the Dilbert comic on the home page labeled “License Me.” Now you can search for a particular strip by key word or date, click a few buttons to describe how you want to use it – for anything from a PowerPoint presentation to a web site to a publication to a coffee mug – enter some credit card information, and you’re all legally licensed in minutes. For example, you can license Dilbert for your business presentation for as little as $19.99, which is the same as free if your boss is paying for it.

    The old way of licensing Dilbert was so cumbersome that I spent a lot of time convincing people they shouldn’t even try. My end of the conversation usually involved something like “Just use it without permission and don’t tell me about it.” When pressed for an explanation as to why doing such a seemingly simple thing would be a nightmare, I launched into my explanation of copyright protections, lawyers, contracts, approval processes, and all the phone calls, faxes, e-mails, and cursing involved to get a tiny license for a limited use. It was a good way for me to experience self-loathing with a dollop of someone else loathing me at the same time.

    In recent years, United Media streamlined the process, but it still involved e-mails, sometimes phone calls, explanations, contracts, and too much time. It was never as easy as common sense demanded.

    As a consequence, Dilbert was probably in second place for the most stolen item of the past 20 years, at least by businesses. (Money was in first place.) And who could blame anyone for using Dilbert without permission? I would have done the same thing. Humans have some sort of hardwired sense of rightness, and stealing something that’s too much of a hassle to purchase legally feels okay to most people. I feel exactly the same way.

    The License Me button is for the benefit of companies that prefer to be legal in all things. It sets a good example. And at long last, it is easy to be legal. I call that a new business model.

    It makes me tingle. I swear it does.

    (Note: Dilbert will always be free for personal use, such as hanging on your wall or emailing to friends.)

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