Why Wotif founder Graeme Wood is an arsehat

Wotif is, undoubtedly, an Australian internet success story. But that doesn’t mean its founder Graeme Wood’s opinions about the future of the internet are worth listening to.

Wood spoke at the 21st World Computer Congress in Brisbane yesterday and, as Fairfax reports, he said this about the National Broadband Network:

If all you do is download the same stuff — only faster — how can you justify that as an investment?

If the mix of the normal usage — email, music, video, Facebook, gaming, stays the same, but just happens faster — is there an economic or social benefit in that for the private user?

See that “if” part? His whole critique is based on the premise that if you have broadband a hundred times faster that what anyone has now, there still wouldn’t be any new applications. Really?

All arguments depend on their assumptions, and at least we can credit Wood for pointing out what his assumptions are. But his assumptions are crap and should be ignored.

If the moon were made of something different and were a different colour, then it would be green cheese. But it’s not.

If vastly faster bandwidth were available then new things do become possible. The fact that you, Mr Wood, can’t think of them isn’t a critique of the NBN. It’s a critique of your limited imagination. Or, even if you have no imagination yourself, your inability to stay in touch with the people sketching out those future applications.

Let’s invert that and go back a few years to the mid-1990s. Instead of the 10Mb/s or more ADSL2+ connections that suburban homes have now, and that most regional users still dream of, we have 56kb/s dial-up links.

Remember 1995? No VoiP telephony, unless there’s no-one else using the internet link. No Skype. No video chat. No AJAX-based software as a service — including Wotif’s own rich interface for booking hotel rooms. No streaming video from the ABC’s iView. No waiting for rich, graphics-filled web pages for news sites. No YouTube. Sure, there were MP3 files, if you were prepared to wait half an hour for each one. Waiting hours to download your monthly Windows updates.

And everyone else in the home waiting until you finish, so they could have their turn.

Wood would be there, saying, “If the mix of the normal usage — email, Gopher, FTP downloads of a text file, web surfing to GeoCities stays the same, but just happens faster — is there an economic or social benefit?”

Of course there is. Even with no new applications, everything happens faster. So everyone can consume faster. Generate profits faster. Do work instead of waiting for software to download.

That someone who purports to be an entrepreneur on the internet has forgotten all this so quickly is appalling.

Thank you for playing, Mr Wood. Now fuck off.

11 Replies to “Why Wotif founder Graeme Wood is an arsehat”

  1. it’s saddening, and hard to imagine how this supposed ‘visionary’ pioneered a new type of web-business, but he can’t foresee the entirely new type of lifestyle and technological innovations that will become possible with the NBN.

    perhaps the fact that his business won’t necessarily profit from the NBN, or perhaps his dependence on the travel industry is in conflict with the coming onslaught of telecommuting that is inevitable with the NBN rollout.

  2. @krzystoff I don’t know anything about Graeme Wood’s background, and the profiles I just found at Media Man and Money aren’t all that revealing.

    Still, I don’t know that I’d label him a “visionary”. He’s had one good business idea and executed it well, but that original business idea really wasn’t anything more than “people can book hotel rooms online”.

    In 2000, when that idea happened, “do something on a website that you previously did on the phone” really wasn’t all that revolutionary. After all, people were already booking airline tickets by then, I seem to recall.

    As @deptofinternets said last night, “I think a massive, ubiquitous speed bump scares the bejesus out of Wood.”

    “How does wotif.com benefit from the NBN? Will visitors expect richer, interactive listings? His margin would evaporate,” he suggested.

    I’m not sure that the NBN is necessarily a direct threat in that way. There’s nothing stopping the hotels adding rich media to the listings apart from the cost of their production.

    I think the real threat would be the increase in telecommuting you suggest, plus the ability for people to disintermediate Wotif as a business hub.

  3. Just the simple fact of the NBN being able to allow many more people to work from home whom live great distances from the CBD, is a huge selling point in my book.
    Not everyone wants to live in or around the city and the NBN will make it so much easier for people to make it possible, in ways we can’t even imagine yet.. Well not all of us at least..

    I get to hang out with my baby boy every day. Lunch, morning tea, bath time. Our relationship is so great because I’m working from home. But there are huge work compromises I’ve had to take because of my decission. Compromises that wouldn’t exist with a net connection as fast as a LAN.

    1. Agreed. Had an acquaintance ask “What will the NBN be good for?”

      Could only come up with comparson to Laurie Breretons’ “White elephant” – Darling Harbour.

      Remember how everyone howled about the corruption, cost and waste? Now it’s considered an asset, and even said to be too small.

      The applications and uses of the NBN will expand to fit the service in ways we can’t even imagine yet.

      And as a regional treechanger who started my internet business with a 28k d/up connection more than a decade ago, I say BRING IT ON!

      1. Apparently the Sydney Opera House was an eyesore and a blight on the harbour when it was first built, and Quay locals were up in arms at the ruination of their view. I gather people said the same thing about Black Mountain Tower in Canberra, and the Tour Eiffel in Paris. Basically, people don’t like new stuff. Or at least, the loudest whingers don’t… but that’s selection bias right there.

  4. Quoting Douglas Adams:

    Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

    I’m guessing your friend the arsehat is over thirty-five.

  5. @Eric TF Bat: I’ve seen that quote of Adams’ before. I’m well over 35 but I’m happy to accept new things — though I daresay I’m slower to adapt than I once was, or perhaps I don’t feel the need to have The Newest Shiniest Thing simply because it’s The Newest Shiniest Thing. But then I’m strange.

  6. Cant believe he actually said that. I’m sure he must have been bluffing due to the fear of Wotif becoming obsolete after the NBN is rolled out. He may have thought his comments may have persuaded some pollies to change their vote. This way it would be much harder to develop web applications that have anymore advanced features than what we have today and have them still run efficiently.

    If this is the case, Wotif.com will be quite comfortable with no significant threats to its crown as authority. If it is his true belief, Wotif will become obsolete in no time because it failed to evolve with the times.

    NBN speed internet will open up a whole new world of possibilities in web development. We’re talking speeds that make streaming HD Television child’s play. That eliminates the need for digital tv, goodbye foxtel, hello Netflix on steroids.

    Australia’s internet quality is already years behind nearly all other developed countries. NBN gives us a chance to catch up and goin the leaders, if it does’t happen like its planned, the global internet ship would have sailed and we wont be on it.

    As the leading countries develop new web applications, larger, faster and more interactive websites, it will result in poorer performance, slower loading times, making it appear our internet is getting worse.

    Coming from regional SA, my family still continues to enjoy satellite internet at around 40Kbs. Loading any website with some high resolution photos or any other media takes an eternity. Primary industries are still one of the top exports we have but the primary producers are still not exposed to the networking power of the internet. Once they are, wow, watch out, they will have their voice back and bring them straight to their market.

  7. Agree with all the sentiment here, except the NBN is a doomsday device for WOTIF. WOTIF’s consumer value proposition is about providing a single destination to view, compare & select accomodation at the best rates. This doesn’t disappear with the NBN.

  8. Graeme Wood has $330M to his name, so I’m sure he can tolerate being called an arsehat. Maybe should just call him lucky filthy rich arsehat.

    Any fool who thinks the NBN will be a well-managed investment is stratospherically deranged. Wood might lack some detail but he is one of the handfull of influential people who acknowledges how woefully incompetent the government is at delivering anything of any real substance.

    And I found this article (which has no prominence elsewhere) using the Wood-finded WotNews application.

  9. @Carl: Graeme Wood is also perhaps only an arsehat in connection with the comments that triggered this blog post back in September last year.

    I’ve recently been quite impressed to discover that he’s funding a new outlet for quality journalism in what appears to be an act of pure philanthropy.

    Phrases like “how woefully incompetent the government is at delivering anything of any real substance” tend to trigger my Mindless Tribalism Detectorâ„¢ I afraid. Governments of all persuasions deliver projects and services of value every day. Only the disasters get a high profile, so our perceptions are skewed. That skewing isn’t helped when the media misrepresents statistics and concocts outrage.

    I don’t blindly imagine that the NBN will be managed well, but nor do I blindly imagine that it will certainly fail simply because it’s a government project. NBN Co appears to be hiring smart people who know how to run projects. We shall see. Of of course we should keep a close eye on ’em.

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