How the Media Technology World is Like High School

The fundamental law of high school sociology is that everybody is uncomfortable being themselves. The average kids want to be like the cool kids, and the cool kids secretly yearn to be somebody else.

Online, the media world looks just the same. Online magazines with extremely unhip business models all want to be just like the ad-supported TV portal Hulu. But Chad Matlin explains that even the hip Hulu wants to be more than an ad-supported site. It wants to swipe style tips from Netflix or iTunes, where users actually pay for content rather than sit through ads. But guess what? iTunes isn't comfortable in its own skin, anyway. Turns out it wants to take a page from the rebel teen of the music industry Grooveshark and let users save and stream their music online. Everybody is envious. Nobody is happy. Heavens, I miss John Hughes.

Here's the WSJ on iTunes' new strategy to shake off the constrictive chains of, well, iTunes:

The key vehicle for the move is Apple's newly acquired music-streaming service La La Media Inc. for which Apple paid $85 million, according to people familiar with the matter. Where Apple's iTunes requires users to download music onto a specific computer, lets users buy and listen to music through a Web browser, meaning its customers can access purchases from anywhere, as long as they are connected to the Internet.

This is a logical next step. A lot of people use two computers -- work and home -- and the Internet allows enormous amounts of information to be shared and stored online, so it doesn't make sense for iTunes to be a machine-specific program. Our music libraries should be accessible from any computer.

This would make iTunes work a lot like a paid version of Grooveshark. Grooveshark is a (dubiously legal?) site that lets users create and save playlists from hundreds of thousands of free songs. The nice thing about Grooveshark is that I can sign in from any computer and play exactly the songs I want to play, over and over again. It's basically like having a small iTunes library online, and you don't have to pay for it.The same way that free news scares newspapers and free music videos scare music companies, sites like Grooveshark should scare iTunes.

Pretty soon, we might see Grooveshark experimenting with subscriptions like Rhapsody; or Nexflix experimenting with free movies like Hulu; or Hulu opening up a movie database for subscribers only like Netflix. The e-media rat race is a standoff between managing your identity and pilfering your nemeses' styles. Like somebody once said, we're in high school forever.