The most interesting thing on the Internet is not the brouhaha about branding a clutch of disparate happenings as "Web 2.0", it is the way consumers are becoming producers.
It was started by eBay, which turned buyers into sellers, and claims that more than 68,000 cottage industries in the UK depend on its website for at least a quarter of their income.
Empowerment is spreading fast as exploding possibilities enable music listeners to become sellers, film viewers to become producers, writers to become publishers and, of course, opinionated people to have their own electronic soapbox by setting up a blog. New opportunities arrive every week. Take easyart.com, a British company written about in the Guardian at the start of the dotcom boom and still going strong.
As well as selling and framing pictures, it is about to enable artists and photographers to showcase their work to a large online audience and either sell original work (without a commission) or use Easyart's new print-on-demand service to produce high-quality reproduction prints. After paying a £99 annual membership, the artist retains 20% of the retail price. This is the equivalent of print-on-demand in the publishing industry. Meanwhile, Fotolibra.com sells your photos (new or antique) to professional buyers. This week, in response to a client's request, it appealed for ones that reproduced exactly the scene of famous paintings.
We could be entering an era of sustained online creativity. The curious thing is its absence so far, particularly in the mobile phone arena. The dog that hasn't been barking is the bedroom programmer. The 1980s were a golden age, as young programmers cut their teeth on the easy-to-access coding of the Spectrum and BBC B computers. The same people are now behind Britain's successful computer games companies (even if, sadly, they are all owned, or being stalked, by overseas companies). Why hasn't this happened with mobile phones? Why aren't there thousands of ideas being dreamed up by bedroom operators taking advantage of the much simpler coding needed for mobiles compared with computers?
I don't know the full answer but a large part must be down to the myopia of telcos who - even now - are denying content providers a decent revenue share. Only last week I was talking to someone whose free service was generating revenue for operators but hadn't been able to negotiate a penny for himself. Where is the incentive to create new ideas when oligopolistic operators snatch up to 100% of revenue?
And the charges! Over the weekend I looked at the details of a morning last month when I uploaded 40 photos directly from my phone to my Flickr website via Shozu. The size of files for photos taken in near-identical conditions on a "basic" photo setting ranged, for no rhyme or reason, from 33.5KB to more than 200KB, costing from 6p to 39p. At 6p the service could generate huge demand, but at 39p you might as well bury your business plan. If operators want to start a new industry they should offer revenue shares of at least 50%. iMode, which is highly successful in Japan, gives 80%.
The ability to make music, take videos with digital cameras or phones and upload them could unleash a new genre of creativity. The market is vast. As Tony Pearce, of Player X, says, games "only reach the market of people who play games whereas video is much bigger because everyone understands video and everyone likes movies". The number of music-enabled phones sold by Nokia last year alone is far higher than iPods sold since their launch.
And this is before considering the dizzy potential of GPS satellite positioning, the applications for which are almost unique to mobiles. At the moment, nearly all the content on mobiles is reconstituted crumbs from Big Media's table. It would be a tragedy if a new era of creative possibilities were stifled at birth by the kamikaze pricing policies of operators.
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