Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

To: Joichi Ito

From: Mizuko Ito

Subject: Re: Bcc: NPO Buyout

Some comments on your essay:

"... She talked about the educational software market where there is no good model for the evaluation of software and mothers end up buying what is on the shelf. What is on the shelf, being driving more by advertising and marketing than real evaluation. A community might be able to evaluate and develop this market. There are many communities which straight advertising is not serving well. ..."

it is not only that the consumers are not being served well. The developers aren't either. There is basically this dense layer of distribution and marketing which is taking a huge cut of the resources in the industry and also filtering the content in particular ways. For example, it is the consensus in the industry now that you can't have a successful kids title now without a strong license at the level of Disney, Lucas, Barbie, or the "Sim" brand. This means that it is impossible for independent developers to survive and for originally characters to be developed. The fact that the industry has "matured" means that the stakes are higher but also that you need major backing to be a player now. It also means that the majority of the budgets these days are being spent on marketing and distribution, which means less dollars proportionally for development and creating quality products.

"The idea that a single market should determine everything is actually a product of our very neo-classical economic view on society. In small communities, it is possible that new forms of value and exchange are more relevant and dynamic than large markets. "

Right. And if you look more wholistically at exchange systems rather than just market economies, you would see that people actually have all kinds of "economies" that are not supply and demand based or even "utilitarian" in the narrow economic sense. The gift economy is one, but there are all sorts of other "regimes of value" that are moblized ever day, like sexual exchange, the "home" economy of families, status economies in professional communities, citational economies in publications, and all sorts of different kinds of cultural capital that are only recently being colonized by monetary systems are valulation. In my kids software case, yes, parents and kids care about getting a good "value" but they care more about what other kids are playing with, what is relevant to the school curriculum, and what happens to be available at WalMart during their fifteen minutes of discretionary shopping time. Decisions are very local. And on the other side of the equation, it is not as if the labor of development is translated transparently into the value or price of the product anymore. Value and price tend to be an effects of a kind of collective social system of exchange rather than something that can be attached to labor input or use value. Things are much more complex and it is much harder to be reductive about valuation when you are looking at cultural commodities.

"Takao Nakamura said that he thought it might be boring to work in an NPO with a bureaucratic governance model. Similarly, Austin Hill described similar schemes where ISP's have been run bo Co-ops where the committee becomes polulated by boring people or the decision making becomes slow. It is necessary to invent a robust and exciting governance model which includes a leadership that allows the organization to make deals, be quick and be visionary.

" Are there any examples of this? I think it will all depend not only on a governance model, but on the actual personalities involved. Maybe MUDs are an example in microcosm... "Politically speaking, this NPO would have to be similar to a nation-state. It would have to have strong beliefs, policies, likes and dislikes, intelligent people, vision. It should exclude people who are not interested in dropping out of the current advertising and market driven consumer market. "

Probably you would see different layers of participation. Again, looking at MUDs there are the gods, wizards, generic players etc. I think most people would participate in the broader community through a specific niche community that meets their local needs, such as wanting support for parenting, bicultural community etc. The larger structure or governance model may be largely invisible, trasnparent to the generic user, but through their participation, they would be supporting the organization. Yes, the wizards need to hold the torch and carry the vision to make it work, but for the end user it just needs to work. It's got to be foremost just the best place to meet certain needs. Kind of like the Internet at large works because there are a lot of activists holding the torch on a variety of issues, but most users don't know or care why. So I'm not sure if it would be a literal co-op model, but some hybrid maybe.

"It could be financed by donations and by savings on purchasing of infrastructure and products directly. The users would own the platform. Isozaki-san of Netyear mentioned that most Internet companies are already owned by the user. I think the main difference will be that there will no exit for the shareholders, only voting power. This would cut out speculators and shift the managment from growth of revenue to happiness of the users... "

Yeah, kind of more a popularity contest in a social sense than market competition. Like you say below, hybrid political economic.

"I have been listening to young and intelligent bureacrats and academics talk about the lack of accountability. Many feel that solid policies necessary to change society are disregarded on not implemented. These people are used to working with option value. If organized properly, I feel that calling on the resources of the academic and government worker community might yield a great deal of people who would help develop the governance model. If a global network of policy designers used the community and the Net to study and propose technically, economically and globally solid proposals to governments, it may be possible to make such proposals so indisputabily "right" that access to such policy would become political power for compliant politicans. Such a group could gain a great deal of reputation value on "vision" and global acceptability. This coupled with the economic power of group buying and acquisition of vital assets, may allow the community to grow to nation-like size. "

A lot of current marketing and distribution was born in an era that was still constrained by a lot of physical geography issues which the net circumvents. You needed to worry about inventory, print distribution, buying shelf space etc. etc. I think we are at a good moment because the net is only just being commercialized, and you still don't have serious net distribution yet. i.e. the old systems haven't reproduced successfully on the net yet. I think it's time for a new model. Like you say, there are a lot of people in the academic community that have been thinking about this stuff, like CPSR, say.


dobo arigato mr. roboto

correct you are!