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< Piro >

Kanon da yo! wai wai wai!

"the art of gifting"

Wednesday - February 27, 2002

[Piro] - 00:36:15 - [link here]

new! Capture the Bear swag! Woo hoo!

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.

< Dom >

I have defeated an officer!

"Classics and old friends"

Monday - March 4, 2002

[Dom] - 01:00:00 - [link here]

First off, I have to apologize for the length of time in between this rant space being filled. Whenever I think Largo is going to start ranting regularly again, he ups and disappears for a few weeks, and then when I think I want to rant, he pops back up. I swear that man knows this and times his rants to interfere with mine--for example, I originally scheduled this rant for Friday, and the Million Maximo Rant rant was followed about 20 hours later by Largo's rant.

Anyway. About that Million Maximo March--it's still on for both Otakon and AX, though for legality issues, we're restricting the March pretty much to swimming pools. Yes, I know, it'll be kind of disappointing not having it in public, but, well, I'd rather not test the law. Oh, and one of the moogles from Anime Expo has told me that there were about twenty of 'em. So now we need a good forty or so. I have a few confirmations, and a few girls willing to donate their (unwilling) boyfriends to the cause. I've even gotten a few offers from women, who'll also wear heart bras with heart boxers. I'm debating whether or not to let them join, as it's going to be rowdy enough with certain leg-humping or muffiny elements joining the march and trying to give everyone wedgies, or muffiny goodness. Yes, I mean you, Mikey and Daniel...

As for BAMF, well, I never got any e-mails saying what and when it was, so I suppose it's cancelled. But dammit, I like the name, so some time after the storm of business that is E3, I might try and hold a less ill-fated BAMF event.

Okay, business done, pleasure now. My roommate picked up Virtua Fighter 4, which is technically breathtaking, especially in their water effects. My problem with it is the accursed jaggies that plague all PS2 games. Just like Dead or Alive 2, the thing is a mass of bad cutouts, which make the visual experience less inspiring. Hopefully, they'll release an Xbox or Gamecube version and take a sander to the lines in the game... because it plays great, now that I'm actually taking the time to learn how to use characters. Besides. The game has a ninja. I have to respect that.

At the same time, he picked up State of Emergency, which was extremely fun--for about an hour. Then I ran screaming back to Dynasty Warriors 3, which I'm appreciating more and more as I sink an ever-increasing amount of time into it. The main difference between the rhythmic whittling of DW3 and the frenzied, Track and Field style of SoE that makes me prefer one to the other? In DW3, the characters actually play differently from each other. SoE, I got away with hitting the throw button repeatedly, and for some reason, people chose not to hit me over the head with their clubs while I was breaking their comrades' arm. Meanwhile, DW3 requires a mix of moves in different situations for its characters, and there's a real sense of movement and progress as you watch the morale bar swing back and forth. I think what expressed State of Emergency for me was the "Last Clone Standing" mode, in which you basically stand near the M16 spawn and shoot unending streams of identical passersby...

So anyway, Dynasty Warriors 3/Shin Sangoku Musou 2 has driven me to start reading the Romance of the Three Kingdoms/Sangokushi. A co-worker of mine told me that when Stephen Chow is singing in Shaolin Soccer, he's taking parts of the classics and perverting them to his own ends, so I'd like to be able to understand the joke, which undoubtedly will be garbled or gone in the Disney version. It's slow progress, since I'm still trying to find a good version of it--some good translations don't have liner notes, while the ones with the best liner notes try waaaay too hard to make the poetry rhyme in translation, which is almost always a recipe for disaster.

And moving on from classics to a game I consider to be part of my misspent teenage years, Magic: the Gathering. I spent a significant amount of time in high school playing this sucker before budget and increasingly uninteresting player interaction moved me away from the game and toward... well, everything else that makes me an ubergeek today.

Enter Magic: the Gathering Online Beta. Free cards. A host of players that may or may not talk smack. A new chance to play an old game without the budget concerns and without everyone gearing themselves toward the next tournament. And did I mention free cards? All of a sudden, I'm pondering getting back into Magic. But once the cards aren't free anymore, I'll probably slink back into the realm of playing with friends' cards once a year or so. Especially since the Beta has introduced me to a part of myself that I'm not quite sure I'm comfortable with--the part with the drive to win over the drive to have silly fun. I think I'm going to make a deck based around the Atogatog to make myself feel better. Or maybe use that card that requires that I win coin flips to win. Yesssss... I will call it Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and require that I call heads every time... yesss.

Anyway, enough of that silliness, I'll be running off to write s'more crud now--as anyone can (and will) tell you, deadlines suck. And then they'll tell you that they probably wouldn't be able to write without 'em.... sigh.

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