Freelance Geek (n):
Like it or not, geeks have become a force to be reckoned with. We're the native guides of the internet.
The internet has been around a lot longer than the World Wide Web, which is currently (early 2001) fading as the spiffy-shiny-new-thing that makes networked computing accessible to everyday people. And for most of its history, the internet has been in the hands of geeks.
Geeks built the protocols that make the easy-to-grok parts of the internet.. like webpages.. work. Geeks laid the foundation that holds everything else up.
While they were doing that, geeks defined the ground rules of how the internet works.
When the Web made networked computing popular, companies worked themselves into a feeding frenzy with the thought of a medium that had all the percieved benefits of television, with none of the liabilities. They thought the internet was something they could control.
The mid-to-late 90s were marked by a period where media companies, in essence, patted the geeks who created the internet on the heads, and said, "Very nice, you can go play now. We'll take over from here." Unfortunately, (at least, for them) it didn't work out that way.
The people who wanted to control the internet were used to thinking of mass communications media as a giant firehose, to be aimed at passive consumers. They'd talk, we'd listen, and things would stay the same as they'd always been.
That's not how the internet was designed, though.
The death from above mindset that business has used regarding the internet simply doesn't work. It is, as John Perry Barlow puts it, a "one-to-many, half-duplex medium".. they (the few) talk, we (the many) listen, and they don't much care whether we want to say something in return.
That doesn't work. Markets are conversations, and nobody wants to be the listener all the time.
The companies that were so confident that they could turn the internet into a one-way medium have gone out of business. Push has been dead for so long that people like to pretend it never existed, and the only truly useful product of the whole "users want to be entertained" movement was the simple admonition "Remember Boo.com".
Instead of proving that The Powers That Be could turn the internet into what they wanted, we've proved that any moron can run a company at a loss until the money runs dry. The Big Boys who came onto the scene with a shout have been slinking away with a quiet whimper for the past year or so. And they've been accompanied by the none-too-quiet gloating of the geeks who've been fighting against ideas like Push and style over substance since day one.
To make it on the internet, you need another way of looking at things.
You need to know what a many-to-many, full-duplex medium is, and how people act when they use one. You need to know what Moore's Law and Metcalfe's Law are, and what their implications are.
You need to think like a geek.
One of my favorite shock lines for pitch sessions and interviews is:
Because I've seen people make them.. over and over again. Because I've thought about what I was looking at, and worked hard to figure out what was happening.
Because I'm a geek, and I understand my environment.
The simple fact of the matter is that the internet is a communications medium. If you want to spend $25,000 on a website, the first thing you should do is hire a full-time employee to make sure that every email message sent to your company gets a first answer within 15 minutes, and that the issue in question is dealt with to the customer's satisfaction within 24 hours.
Do that, and a site with nothing but a single page listing that person's email address will be a success.