Web2.0’s international profit paradox

Paul Raven @ 29-04-2009

internet cafe sign - Varkala, IndiaSlowly but steadily, the world is becoming wired; internet penetration in developing countries is growing at a surprising rate, and the residents of said countries are taking to Web2.0 like ducks to water. Great news for start-up entrepreneurs, right? [image by piccadillywilson]

Well, not entirely. Citizens of developing nations are providing a huge influx of users to Web2.0 platforms, certainly, but the problem is that they chew up a lot of expensive bandwidth without returning much in advertising revenue:

Web companies that rely on advertising are enjoying some of their most vibrant growth in developing countries. But those are also the same places where it can be the most expensive to operate, since Web companies often need more servers to make content available to parts of the world with limited bandwidth. And in those countries, online display advertising is least likely to translate into results.

This intractable contradiction has become a serious drag on the bottom lines of photo-sharing sites, social networks and video distributors like YouTube. It is also threatening the fervent idealism of Internet entrepreneurs, who hoped to unite the world in a single online village but are increasingly finding that the economics of that vision just do not work.

I imagine this problem has been magnified recently by the economic slump; the pricing of online ads everywhere has taken a nosedive in the last year or so. That may be temporary, though, as print media venues close their doors in response to the same pressures. [via SlashDot]

What’s most likely, as the NYT article points out, is a sort of tiered service; MySpace is allegedly planning to serve its Indian userbase with a stripped down page design to save bandwidth (a course of action that, if deployed globally a few years ago, might have stopped people from abandoning it in droves for Facebook), while Veoh has entirely blocked users from many developing regions from watching videos on its service.

A big outfit like Google can afford to bleed money on this sort of thing (and indeed it is – some people estimate YouTube is costing them $1.65million every single day), but not forever. Which means that, if things continue in the same vein, the internet may become the latest frontier where the omnipresent (and ever-growing) gap between the haves and the have-nots makes itself manifest.

It’s a bit of a Catch-22 situation: ad revenue in developing countries is low, but it will only increase at a decent rate if the internet in those areas doesn’t become a second-rate ghetto with limited services. It’s the ages-old battle between idealism and profit margins… and a crucible test for Google’s “don’t be evil” manifesto.


Legacy Locker – the new last will and testament?

Paul Raven @ 09-04-2009

safe deposit boxHave you ever wondered how you’d let your family and/or loved ones get access to your online presences in the event of your untimely demise? [image by William Hook]

No, me neither… but the people behind the LegacyLocker service obviously have. Adam Pash of Lifehacker explains their offer:

Web site Legacy passes on your “digital property” to your friends or loved ones should you die. At first blush, the idea sounds admittedly kind of absurd. But think about the hassle for your loved ones involved in finding contacts that should be notified of your death (email or Facebook), or the money sitting in your PayPal account with nobody around to claim it. None of this poses an insurmountable obstacle for your loved ones, but it’d all be a lot easier if the appropriate usernames and passwords were automatically handed over at your demise.

The service comes with several tiered accounts, from the free account—which will store and hand over 3 “assets” (logins) to one “beneficiary” and send out one “legacy letter” (a farewell message to your loved one) to the $30 annual account, which gives you unlimited everything.

Right now, LegacyLocker just looks like a kook project for folk who like their web2.0 a bit too much… but I think it’ll look a lot less odd in just a few years. A few decades down the line, it’ll probably be a huge business.

Think of all the digital media you will own, for a start: all the stills and movies and audio you’ve bought and made over the years, stashed on your own rented slice of cloud server somewhere where energy is comparitively cheap (and ambient temperatures low), waiting to be passed on to your kids and fed through legacy codec converters, like the future equivalent of the copyshops who work on restoring Victorian-era photographs for your grandparents; an archive of all the buildings you ever made in your favourite metaverse; a few virtualbox instances of your old autonomous software agents, their tiny but quirky personalities too surrounded by sentiment and nostalgia to simply erase…

And what about different forms of legal death? If legal existence becomes increasingly tied to citizenship of a nation-state (or corporation, if there’s any remaining difference by this point), what happens when you’re legally dead (or at least non-living) by that entity’s reckoning – be it sacked, excommunicated, expelled or AWOL? Your name drops off a database somewhere, and your LegacyLocker equivalent (quite possibly supplied by – or even made compulsory by – the afore-mentioned legal entity) blindly releases the passcodes and biometric keys for all your financial and governmental records to some predefined recipient, the contact details for which have (you hope) not been hacked, phished or foxed by digital pickpockets who like the easy pickings of a morgue foyer…

… so now I have about three new story ideas sat in my head, and no time to write them. Business as usual, eh?


Killer app

Sarah Ennals @ 05-04-2009

Killer app - Does Not Equal

Does Not Equal is a webcomic by Sarah Ennalscheck out the pre-Futurismic archives, and the strips that have been published here previously.

[ Be sure to check out the Does Not Equal Cafepress store for webcomic merchandise featuring Canadians with geometrically-shaped heads! ]


Why Wikipedia is (apparently) doomed to fail

Paul Raven @ 13-02-2009

As a poster-child of the Web2.0 success story, Wikipedia has grown from a small but thriving community of volunteers into one of the most well-used online resources there is. But that community-driven character could be Wikipedia’s doom, according to professor of law Eric Goldman – and he thinks the rot has long since set in.

Now, the editors themselves discourage the contributions of others through “xenophobia” toward outsiders; Goldman believes that they see “threats” everywhere and points out that the greater part of all edits made to the site are actually reverted by these editors.

In addition, plenty of political jockeying takes place among editors. And editors have few incentives for their work—no way to make money, no real way even to earn attribution. Together, these problems mean that as editors get burned out by patrolling for spam and vandalism, fewer new people will be interested in stepping up to plug the gap.

Of course, there’s probably plenty of people who would like to slap a whole bunch of [citation needed] links all over Goldman’s theory. But what he’s describing seems to be the same sort of institutional breakdown that can be observed in communities, political movements and any other human group effort.

Perhaps it’s the case that Wikipedia has grown too quickly for its culture to evolve affective coping strategies; maybe smaller subject-specific communities would be more resilient? But then again, maybe they’d just become more cultish more quickly, as has the Church of Darwin.


42Blips – do you digg science fiction?

Paul Raven @ 22-09-2008

Via Tobias Buckell (who got an early beta invitation, don’tcha know) comes news of 42Blips, a community bookmarking site that aims to bring the functionality of Digg to the sphere of science fiction.

42Blips logo

Having taken a look, the first of my fears was allayed – there are actually quite a few front-page stories about sf books and writers, as well as the inevitable TV show puff-pieces. However, there haven’t been many votes cast yet, so all that could change… which brings me to my second concern, which is whether or not science fiction is a big enough community to sustain (or even need) a project like 42Blips. It’s not like online fandom isn’t pretty close-knit already, AMIRITE?

But hey, that’s for fandom to determine, not me – so go take a look if you fancy it. Just one request – don’t turn it into the sort of puerile fool-fest that Digg itself has become, PLS? KTHXBAI.


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