Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Wild West, So You Say?

People keep referring to the internet as being "like the Wild West". I'm not sure what they think the Wild West was, but I think it involves bandits with Mexican accents and shootouts at high noon. That's not really what the Wild West was like.

Well, maybe the Mexican bandits...

But really, the Wild West was the Wild West because of the huge numbers of opportunistic, mostly-uneducated people who streamed out to "the gold rush" for various reasons. It didn't help that the local cowboys were rapidly becoming a dying and very broke breed thanks to the availability of the Oklahoma territory and the prevalence of barbed wire.

The reason it was violent was mostly because of a rapidly rising, badly educated, usually broke, mostly drunk population. There weren't even as many guns as people seem to think: guns were not cheap.

It's true that there wasn't much law, though.

Now, let's compare this to the internet. Does the internet have:

Rapidly rising population?
A predominance of badly educated people?
A largely poor population?
A mostly drunk population?
Not much in the way of law?
Lots of fights?
People can move and gain anonymity pretty easily?

The answer to all of these is "yes", with the possible exception of "mostly drunk". And the only reason people aren't mostly drunk is because alchohol is tough to buy cheaply on-line and sneak past your parents. There's enough brothels to make up for it.

However, there's also a lot of differences between the Wild West and the internet, however. Like:

Immortality - the uncouth can't really touch me.
Unlimited Wealth - or, rather, the things worth having don't cost much money.

These two differences are astoundingly huge. Because it means I don't have to worry about a showdown at noon. Or even some drunken guy firing at me because he doesn't like my "smart mouth".

Of course, we also have automated and extremely vigorous door-to-door salesmen, usually selling smut, and we can't hurt them, just like they can't hurt us. That's pretty irritating.

The way the Wild West was eventually tamed was essentially that the economy caught up with itself and towns could afford to have a police force. The population densities rose in specific locations, allowing the areas to support a strong economy and a number of colleges.

On line, the economy is showing just a few hints that it might, someday, catch up with the population. Our police forces have the benefit of having omnipotence over their patch of territory, so we can get along with fewer police. However, there are no "staties" - local police are easy, but nobody has figured out a way to police the unlimited and ever-growing land between civilized locations. Plus, those civilized locations aren't exactly high-population. A few hundred people, at most. Ghost towns.

We don't have any colleges worth speaking of. The internet is considered a fleeting place - Johnny and Alice, ages 12 and 13, might put up a web page, but they aren't going to attend school here. They do the equivalent of ranching in the summer, but not living here year-round.

Not yet. Not until civilization catches up with us and the internet, like the West, becomes a place people will enjoy living in.

Lots of people live in the internet right now. But few of them make any money doing it, and many of them are working desperately unhappy jobs on the side to pay for their cable connection. That's because the internet economy hasn't caught up with itself yet.

How can the economy catch up with itself?

You know, that's a touchy subject. Economies usually get strong by producing something another economy needs. What does the internet produce? Communication. Just communication.

We need to either figure out a way to make that communication really land the internet IN GENERAL (as opposed to just the guy with scheme) some serious cash, or we need to figure out some other product that the internet IN GENERAL can provide to everyone else in the world.

They key is servicing real economies. More products which service internet users aren't going to be of much help to the internet economy. There are already some companies doing a slick business: Barnes & Noble, Amazon, E-Bay. However, they are not pushing a system which benefits the infrastructure of the internet. They are pushing their particular miniscule subset of infrastructure. Good for them - but two peppers does not a peck prove, as Peter Piper possibly peeps.

What kind of service might be of use? Well, MMOGs do pretty well. Maybe something like that. Once games become FULLY ACCEPTED, like TV, the internet will be a great place to live. Can you push that acceptance faster? Maybe, probably not: people don't change very fast. We're going to have to wait until the young gaming crowd outnumbers the old stodgy crowd, and hope that nobody leads an idiot's crusade against us in the meantime.

Hmmm. Perhaps we should think about cities. Cities always form a powerful nexus of trade - an economy in themselves. The only cities we have right now are MMOGs. Although other places - such as Amazon - have a high population, that population doesn't really LIVE there. On the other hand, people LIVE in MMOGs.

Hmmm. Well, just some commentary. :)

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