< Piro >
Wednesday - February 27, 2002
As you can see, there is no comic today - that's my fault, and involves many factors (the most significant of which is my complete and utter inability to draw tonight. once you go thru 10 sheets of paper its time to face facts and go to plan 'b') So, you get a new comic Thursday and Friday this week instead of Wednesday and Friday. What's a few more hate e-mail this week, i'll live.
I have a tendency to forget things sometimes. Like, for instance, Sweetest Day. Valentines day. Seraphim's Birthday. The fact that you buy gifts for people at Christmas. Things like that.
Even when i do remember these things, the execution of them often has tragic results. I don't send Seraphim flowers typically. Mostly because of one incident where i sent her this amazingly beautiful arrangement that had pollen so toxic that we had to lock the bouquet in the bathroom to keep it from killing her. This florist has subsequently gone out of business.
When it comes to gifts, i'm not big on 'oh, its a holiday, i gotta find something, anything' kind of gift giver. I'd rather come up with something REALLY nice, or really useful. This attitude towards gift giving makes it harder than normal to find things for the people in your life. More often than not, i tend to push off these shopping tasks until it is too late, resulting in the 'pick up anything you can find' method of shopping the day before you need it (i've purchased chirstmas presents on christmas day. Yes, i am that pathetic.)
Anyways, as you might expect, valentines day this year was even worse than usual. Seraphim told me without hesitation that she was more than happy with the botched shirt and candy box gift i attempted to give her days earlier (long story), but i still felt BAD for not having something to give her on valentines day itself. So, i think to myself, i'll send her an e-card! Yea! the ultimate loser geek thing to send to your girl.
For years, i've been sending out Blue Mountain Arts cards to Seraphim, often forgetting that i had already sent her that particular card (bear themed cards are popular between us) but even so, i don't do it THAT regularly. So imagine my surprise when i pulled up Blue Mountain Arts that day and discovered that this once free service was now something you had to pay for.
So, as a loving boyfriend, did i pony up the dough and send her a card? Hell no.
There's an inherent part of human nature that just makes you bristle at having to suddenly pay for something that you didn't have to pay for before. Have a great free service? Sure, people will use it and love it. The business model that says 'give it to them for a while for free so they fall in love with it, then start charging them?' - er, sorry guys. Nice business model, absolutely no understanding of human nature. Since a significant portion of the dot-com economy was based on this model, it should have been no surprise to anyone that the whole thing fell on it's collective ass.
I can totally understand why Blue Mountain Arts switched to a pay for use model. All that traffic has to use a LOT of bandwidth, and with companies no longer hosing advertising dollars around without any real worries as to whether it was effective or not, there's gotta be some way to pay the bills. So, the idea that you get a significant chunk of your users to pay a small fee makes a lot of sense - after all, you get a LOT of people to pay a LITTLE money, you're problems are over, right? Sadly, i don't think this is really the case. It goes against the very nature of the web.
Lets face it. One of the reasons people LIKE the internet is that it gives people access to a LOT of information and entertainment for very low cost. It's not free - most of us pay a reasonable amount of money for bandwidth and internet connections - but on the net we pretty much like to think that once we've paid admission, we're free to roam and do whatever we like. Transferring information on the net is CHEAP. its so cheap, you can pretty much give it away for free. If people like it, they keep coming back for more. The commodity of the internet isn't money, it's access. It's connections. You're wealth in net terms is defined by 'what you have access to'.
We all have friends or people we know who can find just about anything, legal or otherwise, on the net with little or no effort. MP3 files are a good model to look at for this. A lot of great music is pretty much free for the asking at sites like mp3.com but most of the files traded around aren't really 'legal'. Are people really willing to pay for Mp3 files? Not really, because we already have it in our minds that mp3s are a 'free' resource. We don't feel we get any value buy paying for it. If we DO slap down money for music, we want the tangible piece of circular plastic where we can say 'this is mine'.
Then there is this rather interesting phenomenon that often occurs. Once you have the CD, you burn MP3 files and make them available for others over the net. Why would someone do that? Because it adds value to their purchase. We get not only the music, but the added benefit of having added something to the collective pool of information. You've added access to this music, you've increased your own online 'wealth'.
One of the reasons i started Fredart years and years ago was that i found that i wanted to provide my own thing to the 'pool'. For anime fans, especially back then, there was this whole world of japanese anime and manga where entire series lay waiting to be discovered. If nothing else, you could take all the information available on them, collect it together into a webpage, and make it more easily available for people seeking info on a particular series. At the time, I remember noticing that there were no web pages on 3x3 Eyes, so i decided that i would make one. Pai's Page was, really, the first web page on the series, and i did a fairly good job on it. Once making it, however, i had little interest in working any further on it. There was something that just wasn't satisfying about just re-arranging what was, in effect, someone elses work.
Around that time i started to explore japanese websites that revolved around anime and manga. In japan, it was considered bad form to just scan and post copywrited images, so japanese fans found that the best way they could express their loyalty and love for a series and its characters was to do their own fan works. I really liked this model, and Fredart was direct derivative of those style of pages. I wanted to provide NEW material to the web, not just stuff i had found surfing around, or even stuff scanned out of magazines. I was adding something original to the pool, not just reorganizing and recollecting.
I think that one of the things you get when you add to the pool, so to speak, is a certain amount of respect. you don't just take, you give as well. The net lends itself well to new ways that people can provide things to the collective pool. You don't need to be sponsored and paid for by some big media company to get your work in front of millions of people. The old model was that you had to be able to convince a bunch of people with lots of money that you were worth promoting before you even had a chance to see if people would respond to your work on a grand scale. This lead, for the longest time, to the sad state where only a small number of people decided what the public was going to see. Also, since these same people convinced all of us over the years that ONLY people that they felt were good enough to promote were worthy of entertaining us, that we should not waste our time entertaining ourselves - only paid for entertainment was worthy entertainment. Worked great till the net came along.
The net shatters some of the basic structures that people have used for ages to control the dissemination of information. Easy to send, easy to duplicate. The Dot com economy was doomed from the onset because it was formed on the basis of the idea that by just getting out there and capturing the attention of a big chunk of the internet population, the money would just start flowing in. Heh. Some hard lessons have been learned. It doesn't really work that way.
If you think about it, the real currency on the net isn't money. It's respect. Either as an individual or as an entity you gain respect by providing either new material to the net pool, or you provide effective and useful ways for people to access information that is already out there. A lot of big sites that do this started out small (even yahoo. i remember when it was just a link list over at Stanford run by two guys). Of course, respect doesn't pay the bills, so there always comes a time where you have to start looking at how to not only survive, but maybe even prosper a little on all this.
It's in this armature where the real economic viability of the net rests. There is no direct relationship between turning respect into dollars, but that doesn't mean to say that there isn't some relationship between the two. In my opinion, i feel there is a trade off - when you start charging for what you provide, you loose some of the respect you've earned, because now people have traded cash for it. The nature of the relationship has changed. When you move to a pay-for-services model, it completely changes the nature of the interaction between a site and its users. It's especially bad if people suddenly have to pay for something that was, for the longest time, free. Honestly, i think that it's human nature to almost feel 'betrayed' - which, of course, leads to a real loss of hit points in the respect column. ^_^;; The paradox here is that once people loose respect for a site, won't they be less willing to pay for it?
Odd train of thought, huh? I've had to think a lot about stuff like this lately. Running a site like MT is expensive - we've crested 10 million page views this month already, but at the same time the site is almost no different than it was when it was a non-working html template that i had pieced together over a weekend a year and a half ago. Largo and I really do, i think, have a little bit of an understanding of what makes MT what it is - tho i do have to tell you the mind boggles at why so MANY people seem to find the site worth visiting - and with that understanding comes a responsibility to make sure that whatever we do to help keep the site alive NEVER messes with those things. To me, the respect people have shown me over the years for all the hard work and dedication we've put into the site is something i never want to trade in on - because its worth more than any amount of money to me.
I suppose that its the post-dotcom economy sites that now bear the burden of figuring out how to survive in the wired. How DO you survive, pay hosting bills, make enough money to support yourself and others who help run the site? Traditional business model ways of looking at things has already proven that we all know less than we thought we did. Largo and i do it the hard way - we both work full time jobs AND do this silly site. This is not, of course, ideal, and speaks more about our lack of useful brain cells than any kind of success as a website.
I think that an understanding of human nature is almost more important here on the web than in any other business environment. Why? because unlike in the real world we are used to, we've been trained to an 'us and them' mentality in regards to our entertainment and things that we purchase in stores - we are consumers, they are providers. On the net, its different. We are all one in the same - fredart.com was just as accessible as ibm.com. We all can make websites. We all KNOW we have the ability to reach millions of people. Many sites, even Megatokyo itself, has proven that individuals can do this. You dont need to be a big corporation. We all have the same basic presence on the net - its how we use it that makes us who we are here.
Oh, and Seraphim's reaction to me being so cheap that i wasn't willing to pay for a subscription to Blue Mountain Arts to send her a valentines day e-card? Her answer was, if you think about it, not surprising: "The hell with that. you're little ASCII heart was so cute."
It's not the money you spend, its the thought that goes into it. You can't buy respect, you can only earn it.