January 24, 2014
The Volokhs Find the Amazon Finds Them
In 1980, a 12-year-old boy and his father began to create a beautiful expansion of MPE for 3000 customers. These men are named Volokh, and that surname has become the brand of a blog that's now a part of The Washington Post. The journey that began as a fledgling software company serving a nascent computer community is a fun and inspiring tale. That 12-year-old, now 45, is Eugene Volokh, and along with this brother Sasha the two created the Volokh Conspiracy. Volokh.com became a blog in 2002 -- something of a breakthough in itself, according to the Internet's timeline. Now the new owner of the Post, Jeff Bezos, has replaced a long-standing blog from Ezra Klein with the Volokhs' blend of legal reporting, cultural commentary, and English exactitude.
Bezos, for the few who don't know him, founded and owns the majority of Amazon, the world's largest online retailer. And so, in one of the first Conspiracy posts out on the Post, the article's headline reads
In Brazil, you can always find the Amazon — in America, the Amazon finds you
This is a reference to the Russian roots of the Volokhs, according to founding father Vladimir. He recalled the history of living in a Communist country, one that was driven by a Party relentless in its dogma and control. With the usual dark humor of people under oppression, he reported that "In Russia the saying is, 'Here, you don't find the party -- the party finds you.' "
Amazon has found the Volokhs and their brand of intense analysis -- peppered with wry humor, at times -- because it was shedding Ezra Klein's Wonkblog. Left-leaning with a single-course setting, this content which the Volokhs have replaced might have seen its day passing, once Klein was asking the Post for $10 million to start his own web publishing venture. There may have been other signs a rift was growing; one recent Wonkblog headline read, "Retail in the age of Amazon: Scenes from an industry running scared."
This is not the kind of report that will get you closer to a $10 million investment from the owner of Amazon. That running scared story emerged from this month's meeting of the National Retail Federation, a place where 3000 capabilities have been discussed over the years.We've run reports of NRF from Birket Foster of MB Foster in the past. Those capabilities surround the need to secure commerce that runs through HP 3000s. At one point the server had scores of users of software that included Point of Sale aspects, although few 3000s ever integrated with such retail devices. But NRF isn't the point of this article. We intend to congratulate Eugene, Sasha -- and of course their proud father -- for breaking into the mainstream media with their messages, information and opinions.
"When you ask them how they feel about it," Vladimir told us this week about his sons and their blog's transition, "they say, 'We will see.' " The Conspiracy didn't need the Post and its mainstream megaphone. The compensation is slight, Eugene wrote as he explained why volokh.com will slip behind what he calls "a rather permeable paywall" in a few months.
The main difference will be that the blog, like the other Washingtonpost.com material, will be placed behind the Post’s rather permeable paywall. We realize that this may cause some inconvenience for some existing readers — we are sorry about that, and we tried to negotiate around it, but that’s the Post’s current approach.
In exchange, the Conspiracy, with its ample roster of bloggers covering legal and intellectual subjects, is going to remain free for the next six months, even up at the Post website. "For the first six months, you can access the blog for free. We negotiated that with the Post, by giving up likely about half of our share of the advertising revenue for that time. (Six months is the longest we could get.)"
The website the Volokhs established has an avid readership. Along with that blogosphere presence, Eugene has been visible enough in places like The New York Times, CNN and NPR that I'd give him the award for Most Famous Person that MPE Prowess Ever Launched. It was back in the year when he worked as a teenaged, seasonal programmer for Hewlett-Packard that MPEX was born to become the developer and DP manager's power tool, an express lane for managing and hyper-driving an HP 3000. Vladimir and Eugene created that software, which founded VEsoft.
But more than three decades later, the 3000 and MPE have become a minority of Eugene and Sasha's work-weeks. These men are now professors of law at UCLA and Emory. When asked if the millions of dollars you'd imagine coming off a Post blog would change them, Eugene exhibited a typical pragmatic quip.
What will [we] do with all the millions we’ll rake in? We are sharing advertising revenue with the Post, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be much. Our hourly rate for our blogging time will remain pretty pathetic. We’re not in it for the money; if we were, we’d be writing briefs, not blog posts.
The HP 3000 doesn't take a turn in the subject matter of the Conspiracy. The blog's metier is the law, how the law impacts social behavior like privacy and information sharing, as well as intellectual property rights. It's wide-ranging, a lot like the 3000 has been since it began in the era of "general-purpose computer." To keep reading the Conspiracy for free after July, Eugene says, you can subscribe to its RSS feed, register at the Post with a .gov or .edu address, follow it on Twitter, or look for an imminent Facebook page.
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