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Hervé Le Crosnier, on the Internet's Vectoralism


Hervé Le Crosnier is one of France's excellent and interesting thinkers and writers about the Digital Era. He also expresses ideas which may sound unfamiliar to anglo-americans, but in fact reflect views widely-held elsewhere -- in France, around Europe, in Africa, Latin America, Asia...

Periodically seeing what the outside world -- "allies", "critics", "customers" -- is thinking, is a good idea for any undertaking. Hervé here provokes new thoughts, different thoughts.

Excerpts follow: the full text, both translated en américain and in Hervé's elegant French, with plenty of notes, is on the FYI France website now at,


This piece by Hervé is to be presented at, "Document Numérique et Société / DOC SOC 2008, 2e édition", 17-18 nov 2008, CNAM Amphi Abbé Grégoire, Paris, http:/




"The Digital Era and Vectoralism"

by Hervé Le Crosnier,
[tr. JK, excerpts]


As the Internet was developing, and becoming the central nervous system for all the world's economies, and for all personal communication and exchange of information, we saw several contradictions arise:

The technology of the Internet first appeared to follow a fundamentally egalitarian model: at its origin, each "client" also could become a "server"... The pathway for messages was divided up among many routers, lending a cooperative character to the network of networks thus assembled.

Upon this decentralized architecture, individuals were able to find decentralized modes of expression, and of invention and innovation.

But now, twenty years later, the major actors are very consolidated, innovators get hired and co-opted immediately by large corporations, and voluntarily or not each Internaute and Internaut relies on these large corporate "vectors" for her or his navigation, communication, and creative capacities.

The question which we address here is that of characterizing this new type of enterprise, emerging from the Internet, which presents itself as a "global organizer" of the digital activities of individuals.

Are we speaking here simply of a new capitalistic effect of the structure of monopolies, which may be regulated by traditional anti-monopoly strategies? Or do the capacities of these enterprises for knowing about and organizing the lives of individuals who use their services call for a different approach?

Are we speaking of a new stage in the industrial concentration of the media, on a global scale, or in fact of an overturning of the established media by "intermediaries" of information, with notable consequences for our models of financing human creativity?


Nothing would be more dangerous than to believe inevitable the desires of Internet pundits: like all dominant beings, the new actors wish to validate their domination and let it be believed that their own leading role is due simply to the innovative character of their activity -- which provides them with a vast public / clientele and which produces financial results for their industry, results which may be measured in stock market values.

We must, on the contrary, evaluate all the socio-economic impacts and consequences of the new techniques, with regard to the basic balances in society.

Post-feudal societies place the question of individual liberty and citizen autonomy at the center of their common idea. In what measure do the new "vectors" accommodate respect for Human Rights on the one hand, and community values on the other? And in what measure will the new forms of regulation provided for the new economic and technical situation protect citizens, in both their private and their collective spaces?


1) Network Effects

The basic rules of markets -- competition, development strategy, anti-monopoly regulation -- are placed into question, by the digital technologies.

Network effects permit the increase in value of a product due to an increase in the number of its users, and give a competitive advantage to the first-to-market.


To achieve the status of "vector", one must attain a perch in the competition which can be developed into an established client base, captive de facto of the "experience effect" or the "network effect", and therefore and thereby susceptible to new services.

The role played by the operating system -- Microsoft -- is displaced by the search engine -- Yahoo!, Google -- the latter having become the indispensable tool, notably by virtue of the crumbling of the media industry and its transformation into tools of access.


2) Web Media

The "Web Media"... arose for the purposes of documentary research, project management, and the de-linearization of reading. If media is above all a tool for the "captation" of users, enlisting "available brains" for sale to a third party, usually an advertiser, then Web Media reproduce this economic relationship outside normal rules of distribution.

The media are "packaging", for a collection of programs or articles. In the traditional distribution model, each element -- program, article, song... -- serves as a product attracting users to the news-flow, and in an inverse sense benefits from the aggregation of viewers already assembled by the media.

It is an undertaking of mutual benefit, attracting content providers who can find remuneration for their efforts at their workplaces -- salaries, broadcast royalties...


The first element of the recovering situation: de-linearization. The user no longer has to follow the flow. S/he can reach the datum of information desired, whenever it is convenient, and on whatever type of terminal is available -- computer, television, mobile phone...

De-linearization is the use of RSS flows, which cut up the journal into articles and enable the diffusion of "alerts" keyed to user profiles. It also is "catch-up TV", which permits users to view a TV program later, and even several days later, and even on their mobile phones.

It also is listening to music morcel by morcel, the promise of iTunes and the other systems of piece-by-piece sales. It is the explosion in Video-On-Demand, which after its 2008 beginnings will become a major factor in 2009. It is the re-selling of TV series, like

The printed book knows this phenomenon of de-linearization through the systems of online extracts -- Amazon Inside, Google Books... -- of the sale of "pages" to the media, and the birth of new genres of enterprise trying to bite off pieces of the new organizational modes of information, for example the "cellphone novels" written and distributed via mobile phone.

As predicted by Michael Gorman, president of the American Library Association, all this reduces our understanding of real information, which one must research and extract -- by destroying both the logical construction of books on the one hand, and that of libraries on the other...



3) Recommendation, User-Generated Content, Crowd-Sourcing, and Platform Expertise

The users of the participatory Web will be encouraged, at the end of each article, music piece, on film sites... to "note", "vote" or "share" -- see Digg, Stumbleupon... -- their opinions of the documents.

Accumulating the choices of users makes thematic lists and classifications possible. Other platforms organize public criticism, the way Amazon does. This phenomenon has a double aspect:

Anyone can mount texts, music or video, but only sites capable of monetizing the contents can hope to make a profit.


...a new form of economic system which knows how to draw financial benefit from the cultural efforts of individuals.

To make the masses work -- crowd-sourcing -- and obtain the benefit therefrom... without any labor contract, or even a contract for distribution or production...


4) Tracking and Profiling

As a marketplace at the service of the Influence Industries, the vectors transform the value of not only the documentary work-product of the users but also of their entire information - activity: communication -- mail, geolocation in mobile phones, instant messaging -- information search & retrieval and online reading patterns, statistics on the proximities of interest centers...

To this end vectors multiply their sources of information about the user, from information submitted -- forms submitted to users, online payment patterns, user statements culled from online social networks -- to information obtained by tracking user behavior.


By providing ads to numerous sites, the way Google's property Doubleclick does, the vectors are able to view a large "horizontal" slice across the major part of a user's choices, and thus draw her or his "personal profile". Such a profile later will provide its greatest benefits to the customers of the Influence Industry.

This situation creates a new market in which the vectors install themselves, an identity market: a market for --


An entire industry is being born around the management of digital identities. Formerly this responsibiity was reserved to The State.


The management of identities is a critical domain in the new situation, it divides responsibilities between the public powers and the convergent commercial enterprises.

Another means of constructing vectors is to extend the activities of information network management towards tracking and profiling.

This occurs in the resale or use of geolocation information by the mobile phone networks.


Direct usage-tracking by Internet Service Providers is a potent means of constructing vectors, it provides an important role for big telephone companies in developing their particular form of vectoralism.


It also is around this approach, of obtaining a global knowledge of the user, that one must understand the interest of Google in mobile telephony, and the launch of its first "Google iPhone", directed primarily at the developing nations where the attraction of the Google trademark will draw off a user-base for whom the mobile phone will be their principal Internet access terminal.


5) Extension Over the Entire Value Chain and the "Economy of Counters"

The vectors insinuate themselves into all the activities of users, to make them clients available for all their offerings of commerce, from third-party sales of readings to the Influence Industry, and premium services, and "counter" activities -- mobile telephony, subscriptions -- and credit -- payments, and soon even the offering of credit and facilities for payment...


The vectors work from a strong position, equipped with a clientele constructed via technology offerings -- search engines, applications... -- and a central position in the usage-chain -- tv networks, telephone operators, Internet Service Providers... -- and in the management of e-commerce or of industry standards. And they reach, now, to control all these arenas together.

The idea is to make further acquisitions, both to acquire new technologies or content and to limit the margins of maneuver of their competitors. Vectoralism is monopolistic, basically, as it does not see itself as a commercial enterprise engaged in value-capture, but as the "natural" product of technology for "organizing all the information in the world"...


Examples abound of vector strategies for extending their reach to cover all aspects of digital products and services:

There is Orange, becoming an operator of television and a player in movie financing, in the re-launch of Canal+ into the arena.

There is Adobe, strengthened by its mastery of the graphics industry, which now becomes a major operator of services software on the one hand, and of image database software on the other.

There is the extension of Yahoo!, online advertising operator, building a market for commercial publicity which can span the entire range of multimedia.

There is Fox TV, which bought the online community MySpace.

There is Amazon, which sells more and more products -- books, electronics, groceries... -- but above all services, using its web-services features.

There is eBay, which moves from auction sales among users to boutique commerce at fixed prices, and ventures into finance with PayPal... there is Cisco, the routers giant, which buys Jabber so as to offer instant messaging....

And there is, with all the special éclat of this particular enterprise, the all-horizons model of Google, which ranges from video sites to satellites, from geolocation cartography to medical records, from online office automation to mobile telephony...

We are far from the traditional model of monopoly, in imagining a holistic system of "lifetime value", an evaluation of all that an individual might provide to an enterprise in terms of the personal activities of an entire lifetime.


Lessons learned: the competitive advantage of free services created, and rendered credible, today's more traditional situations of value capture.

The vectors are not just new media. They approach the tradition of the "counter" industries. That is what renders the place of telecommunications operators so sensitive, in this reconstitution of the vectoral economy.

The latter group is extending its grasp toward content, the media, and the organization of users -- called "communities" -- while in the inverse sense the "pure players" of the Web search for a foothold in the more traditional activities of telephony...


6) Digital Information in the Clouds

Individual users were the first to benefit from this type of architecture, for example with online photo albums, and of course with Web research. But today commercial enterprises, confronting the increasing mass of data, think of externalizing their data centers as "Cloud Providers".

Which indicates yet new arenas for vectors equipped with the right infrastructure...

... the "digital" is not "virtual" -- and, far from being "de-materialization", we are witnessing the construction of a new industrial material infrastructure, for our information society.

The criteria of construction for data centers recall classical industry -- proximity to energy sources, to communication networks, and to means of cooling.

Permanent labor, however, remains rare and can take part from a distance. Still, local regions will make many sacrifices to attract these new industries.



7) The Myth of Calculation

We are entering upon a second Modern Era, which is based upon calculation.

The best-seller by Ian Ayres, "Super Crunchers" (2007), shows an evolution from the period characterized by deductive reasoning -- the "High Court of Reason", dear to Enlightenment philosophes -- to a period in which decisions are the products of statistical calculations, presented so as to make them appear synthetic.


...transformation of analytical models into predictive models is at the heart of current research, in vectors. The point is to "improve the user experience", by divining user wishes, needs, and dreams. And "comportment advertising" is one of the avenues being explored: the idea is to know the individual, beyond that which she know of herself and the information which she furnishes in her own self-description, on social sites or commercial sites, so as to suggest to her purchases, products, or services, corresponding to her entire range of activity and not solely to her own precise demands.

This Myth of Calculation needs to be taken seriously and studied for its cultural consequences. The epistemology of calculation becomes a matter both for science and for citizenship, and one essential in this hour of vectoralism.

The dynamic of the contradiction, its unstable equilibria, its original scientific ideas, and even more its true emotions -- not provoked by the calculations of the Industries of Influence -- the path through all of it for the individual, the role of "free will", the cumulative experience -- traditional knowledge, peasant wisdom -- and all the ethical rules and fundamental organizational principals of democratic societies are involved, in this takeoff toward calculation.

Inasmuch as the vectors search to accumulate economic power, influence, mastery of calculation and of infrastructure, to achieve their administrative and political role on a global scale, this contradicts some concepts which have been handed down to us from the Enlightenment: the Nation-State, the separation of powers, multilateralism, and finally the conception of Human Rights as a common good shared by all the planet...


8) The Administrative and Political Role of the Vectors

A regulator nowadays is overloaded by the technical nature of these new entities, which can make choices in economic strategy appear to be "necessities"...

The vectors are beginning to position themselves in the domains of administrative management:

As long as individuals have their personal passwords lodged with one or another of the vectors, those individuals will become dependent upon the commercial strategies and the relationships established among those vectors, and also the relations between the vectors and the public powers.

Administrative power also becomes a support for the vectors' growth toward other essential activities. Notably in banking, which now is going through such upheavals...


What then of the vectors? Their credibility, entailing the confidence of their participants, and so the confidence in their means of e-payment which they make available, no longer will depend upon their trademark reputation due to their market abilities, but upon their "administrative" lines of dependence reinforced by "network effects" or "experience effects".


The incursions of the vectors into the domains of banking and of insurance must be looked at with attention, and made the object of careful research.


The vectors try more and more to develop among themselves the terms of their own regulation: via "charters", or explosive announcements, or by playing upon the differences between national laws and a directly globalized industry.

The article by Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, in Le Monde on September 18 2007, is an indication of this wish of the vectors to become producers of law: Schmidt said,

It is a matter of endorsing vector practices, before citizen and consumer groups can see the impact upon society of the gathering of trackings of private lives, and of all the Cyberspace activities of individuals -- from personal photo albums to information searching, not forgetting social networks, communication, and the management of identities.



It will be essential to undertake case studies, and monographs of specific enterprises, to understand each of the aspiring vectors, to determine the strategies employed and the specific interference which each installs between its techniques -- innovations, data management, innovative offerings of services... -- and the resulting economic or administrative powers, and their politics. But above all there must be a focus on the coherence of the overall effort, as well.

The new technical structure of the Internet installs products in the environment where they have consequences upon the organizational forms of societies, of debate, of the conditions of creation and distribution of knowledge, and of culture.

The strategies of firms in this sector work faster than the scientific effort necessary to evaluate their consequences. And faster than the transmission of these analyses to the effective decision-makers of civil society... Which is a phenomenon with consequences for democracy...


The wish of Google to "do no evil", the discourse on collective well-being, and the grand lyrical flights which accompany all public presentations by the leaders of vectoralism, ought not to make us forget the fundamentals of social organization.

Our quest is to clarify things for the citizen and the decision-maker, about the emergence of vectoralism, and to bring about some reflection on the forms of organization we all wish for, reflection not dependent upon the corporate reputation or technical success of the principal actors currently in the arena.


Caen, le 2 octobre 2008,

Hervé Le Crosnier
Document licensed per Creative Commons by-nc.




Editor's Note, à l'américaine:

In school I studied little science and less math -- philosophy, mostly, plus what the 19th and 20th centuries were pleased to call political "science". So I am somewhat of Herve's persuasion regarding his Myth of Calculation: it is a myth, I agree with him, that numbers and calculation even can explain the world, much less solve all the world's problems -- although I would add that it's been less mathematicians and scientists who have made the wilder claims, than philosophers and politicians who have understood such things imperfectly, and have applied "exact" techniques to "wicked" and ambiguous problems.

In studying and later living both philosophy and politics, too, I learned a great deal about ambiguity, particularly that more than one "best" solution exists to any given problem. The one place Occam's Razor doesn't ever work is in politics, I found. Any doubts I ever had about there being more than one solution were erased, moreover, when I first sat down at a Mac, and discovered "multiple pathways" -- it was very disorienting, at first, and after that only vaguely reassuring, to find that there might be more than one way to explain or do a thing on a computer.

So Hervé's argument, above, is presented in at least that sense: as an example of the _lack_ of consensus, on these matters, which exists in the Outside World -- to an Anglo-American world which still, after decades of international technical collaboration and of Globalization, essentially designs and runs our new Digital Era.

Will the Internet "scale up", to societies which believe in centralization, or socialism, or Buddhism -- or in "Sinic" approaches to all things -- or societies which one day may be "democratic", in our unique Western sense of that very complex term, but are not yet -- or to societies which do _not_ want to be democratic... -- or to societies which never will be... -- or to societies very like us, in fact, but which simply prefer to use their own languages? All these still are questions.


Jack Kessler,






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