What's the difference between working for money and playing for money?

I missed Julian Dibbell's The Unreal Estate Boom in Wired last November (I was in Frizzance), but I recently retified that oversight. Too many interesting bits in the article about virtual spaces and economies to exhaustively list here, so here's a short one:
"The minute you hardwire constraints into a virtual world, an economy emerges," explains Castronova, the Adam Smith of EverQuest. "One-trillionth of a second later, that economy starts interacting with ours."
Some thoughts:

1. I'm not sure if that's always true. Slashdot has an economy (with karma as currency) but as far as I know, no one is selling their karma to less karma-rich folks. But, it's close enough.

2. Back when ICQ was still popular, people sold low ICQ numbers on eBay. #163896 went for $41.

3. When MetaFilter was inundated with new users, Matt throttled new user signups to 15 people a day. But he also let in anyone who donated $5 toward server upkeep and bandwidth. Many people joined this way.

4. And just in case you didn't think they were smart, the folks at Ludicorp recognize that virtual economies & real world economies are tightly coupled in the way that Mr. Castronova describes above. Expect The Game Neverending to let people play extensively with the intersection of the virtual and real world economies.

ps. Julian Dibbell is keeping a weblog called Play Money in which he's documenting his attempt to make real money in the virtual world of Ultima Online.

A new editor for the remaindered links

Andy Baio will be posting to the remaindered links weblog (RSS) for the next couple of weeks. Welcome Andy. And thanks to Lance for posting there for the past couple of weeks. Rumor has it that his special brand of linky goodness will be popping up elsewhere on the web in the near future.

The Internet and the Chinese rave scene

Network Effects: Use of the Internet in the Chinese Rave Scene describes how Chinese music promoters and DJs are using the Internet to download & share music, read foreign music-related media, plan events, and generally share knowledge about their interests & craft, despite the Great Firewall of China:
I began to see a number of distinct effects of the rapid increase in Net usage on the nascent Chinese club scene: local DJs and producers were using the Internet to obtain new tools for producing and distributing their own music; websites were springing up to inform users about new developments in the Chinese scene and provide new opportunities for participants to communicate with one another; and music makers and clubbers alike were using the Net to learn about and obtain new music from both domestic and international artists.
Some Chinese DJs even use music downloaded from the Net in their live sets, making their own compilations of MP3 files of music from China and abroad and recording them on CDRs; I have observed DJs at some of the largest clubs in Shanghai and Guangzhou using these CDRs in the DJ booth. Among some in the Chinese underground hiphop scene, only tracks which have been downloaded are considered truly "underground" and thus valuable, while any music which is available for purchase in physical form is seen as being tainted by commerciality to some degree.
When I was in Beijing in 1996, I observed several people handing out club flyers around hotels and in the more hip/affluent parts of the city. They were particularly keen about giving flyers to anyone who looked like a tourist.

Martha Stewart and her troubles with the law

With all the hubbub about Martha Stewart right now, Jeffrey Toobin's Lunch at Martha's from February's New Yorker is a good look at the legal issues involved in the case and Stewart's personal feelings about it:
When we took a lunch break, it was clear that the wounds of the past year ran deep. After I admired the silver chopsticks that had been set out, Stewart said, "You know, in China they say, 'The thinner the chopsticks, the higher the social status.' Of course, I got the thinnest I could find." After a pause, she added, "That's why people hate me."
The article reveals Stewart to be attentive to detail and controlling, but it's hard to see that she would be interested at all in jeopardizing her career, forture, company, and reputation over "three-hundredths of one per cent of her total net worth". It just doesn't make sense. The SEC is barking up the wrong tree here.

It's a book about book covers

The word on the street is that this book by Veronique Vienne (published by Yale University Press) will be a retrospective of Chip Kidd's work as a book jacket designer and will include many full-color illustrations of his work. I have a thing about book cover design so I'm pretty jazzed about this.

Update: Ben writes in that there was a bit about Mr. Kidd in the first issue of Radar magazine...which I unfortunately missed and is not online.

Moderating discussions on weblogs

Sam Ruby is conducting an interesting experiment with the comments left on his weblog. He's identifying potentially inflammatory comments by changing the text color, striking the text (like so), and linking the text to an explanation of why it might be so displayed. Here's an example of a comment that has gotten the firehose treatment. People are upset about their comments being modified, but as Sam says on his explanation page, "nobody has an inalienable right to place information on my website." As long as he clearly states what he's doing, isn't modifying or adding any text (not even misspellings), and doesn't allow anyone else to mimic his editorial functions, Sam can do anything he wants with the text on his site.

I'm happy to see Sam trying to moderate the discussions on his site to make them more useful. My only worry with his particular implementation of comment annotation is its negative nature. I'm not sure that slapping people's hands with a ruler is the best way to keep control and might result in even more unruliness. It would interesting to see how a more positive approach (perhaps as a supplement to the flamebait annotation) would work to reinforce the good ways in which people express themselves in comments. I've been wanting to mark good comments on my site with a gold star or something for awhile (I could never get Movable Type to do it and was too lazy to bother whipping up my own solution), but maybe setting off good comments in a different text color or with a background color would be sufficient. Perhaps the people who are complaining about their comments being modified wouldn't feel so unfairly persecuted if their comments had been marked as positive instead of negative.

Social vaporware

Bill Thompson wants a little less conversation about social software (and presumably, a little more action):
This lack of awareness about what has been done before means that, by and large, the ongoing debate about social software is generally uninteresting, intellectually shallow and largely irrelevant.

It is a shame, because the people having the discussions are intelligent and write well, and they are struggling with real issues.

However the easy availability of online publishing tools, the drive to cross-link every discussion and comment to everyone else's, and the almost complete lack of any historical or research-based perspective means that the result is no more interesting than an overheard coffee-shop conversation.
I can't say that I disagree with Thompson's viewpoint here except to say that coffee-shop conversations have value as well.

The Incredibles by Brad Bird

Finding Nemo** opens today (and it's getting great reviews) but I'm already looking forward to Pixar's next movie, The Incredibles. The man in charge of the film is Brad Bird, Simpsons alum and director/writer of The Iron Giant, one of my favorite movies of the past few years and probably the most underrated children's film ever. More on The Incredibles:
This is the sixth film from Steve Job's production company Pixar, which has also produced Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, and Monsters, Inc. The film, which is about a family of superheroes, is completely CGI and the distributor is Pixar's partner Walt Disney Pictures. Like the Fantastic Four, the film explores the dysfunctional family situations that can result from constantly having to save the world. During the concept stage, the title for this film started out as The Incredibles, then changed to The Invincibles, before finally changing back to The Incredibles. The picture is the brainchild of masterful storyteller Brad Bird, the director of the critically acclaimed animated film Iron Giant, which had mixed results at the box office. Many blamed the distributor of that film, Warner Bros., for poor marketing, and soon after in early 2000 Bird moved on to Pixar.
** We got a new server today at work and the guy setting it up named it "Nemo". When he was testing it over the network later in the day, he got an error message that said, "Cannot find Nemo".

Jason's rules for the NYC subway

1. Get the hell out of my way, I'm coming through.

2. Do not stop at the top of the stairs to put your MetroCard back into your purse/wallet. You are between me and my train.

3. Act more like a particle and less like a wave. When you're weaving all over the platform like a drunken sinusoidal, energetic particles like myself -- who, in keeping with Newton's first law of motion, like to remain in a uniform state of motion until acted upon by an outside force -- cannot easily get past you.

4. Slower traffic keep to the right.

5. Yield to persons crossing the platform from the express train to the local train (or vice versa). They need the right-of-way more than you do for that 15 seconds of your existance on this earth.

6. Have your MetroCard out of its holster before you get to the turnstile. Before.

7. If you are waiting for your train, suppress the urge to wander the crowded platform aimlessly. Pick a spot and stay exactly there. If you need to move, do so with purpose and well-defined direction.

8. I'm embarrassed that I even need to mention this one because it's so bloody obvious, but get out of the way and let everyone off the train before you attempt to board. (Calling Malcolm Gladwell...why haven't you written a NYer article that explains the particularly brain dead human behavior of people crowding into subway cars and elevators before people have exited them?)

9. Get the hell out of my way, I'm coming through.

A Mighty Wind, Christopher Guest

Guest's latest mockumentary is probably the strongest film of the bunch that includes Best in Show, This is Spinal Tap, and Waiting for Guffman. A Mighty Wind tells the tale of a folk singers reunion show and is funny, genuinely touching in parts (the Mitch and Mickey storyline), and features some great original music (and I'm not a big folk music fan). However, Guest's mockumentary format is beginning to wear a little thin for me; I would have liked it a lot more had I not seen the others first.

If you build an empty box, people with fill it with words

As of this writing, there are 264 comments attached to The Matrix Reloaded thread -- about 200 more than I thought there would be -- and it's still going strong (14 comments today). The wide array of theories as to what people think the movie is all about and what the next installment holds range from mere speculation on plot points to complex philosophical explanations (some of them quite informed) to disinterested & unimpressed reactions to nutball Kennedy assassination-level theories. Even if you're not interested in the movie, the thread is an interesting look at the various degrees of meaning people get from media.


Finally settled in to watch Microcosmos last week after Tivoing it several weeks ago. James Berardinelli sums up how I felt about the film pretty well (4 1/2 stars at least). My favorite scene features a dung beetle trying to roll a bit of dinner up a hill; a more Sisyphean struggle I haven't seen. The producer of Microcosmos, Jacques Perrin, has a film out in American theatres right now called Winged Migration that I'm quite keen on seeing as well.

Kottke Stalker

With apologies to Gawker Stalker, here are some NYC celebrity sighting reports I've gotten from my readers:

Anna Wintour leaping Matrix-style from a black Lincoln Town Car on 43rd Street behind 4 Times Square, descending upon four unsuspecting interns. I have never before seen such exquisitely-toned intern ass kicked so completely. Her beatings administered, Lady Wintour flew off into the morning sky, the world flexing behind her.

Samuel L. Jackson standing outside of Madame Tussaud's in Times Square. He was very nice, posing for picture after picture with people.

Everyone doing cocaine. (Ed. note: This is funny because everyone in NYC does coke -- how quaint! -- and it makes us all feel extremely cool to mention it as often as we can.)

Paris Hilton on the subway platform at 135th Street, waiting for the 2 train to the Bronx.

Colin Farrell having sexual intercourse with six famous young women at the same time. Out of respect for their privacy, we won't reveal the names of the six women. Present were Britney Spears, Winona Ryder (boy, did he!), Tanya Harding, Hilary Duff, Kylie Minogue, and Dame Judi Dench. Colin ain't picky.

Graydon Carter riding Tina Brown like a pony through Midtown at 12:15pm. Gray and blonde locks flowed majestically behind. Of course, it may have been an unknown man riding an unknown woman like a pony through Midtown because I have no clue what Graydon Carter and Tina Brown look like and neither do you.

Every actor that has ever been in an independent film in a tiny vegan coffee shop (so hip!) in the West Village (so, so hip!). Seriously, they were all there. I dare you to name someone who wasn't there. When we left, Philip Seymour Hoffman was leading a rousing game of Who's Keeping It Most Real?

Ben Affleck and J.Lo. absolutely nowhere near the block.

Earthquake in Japan

An earthquake and a series of aftershocks hit Japan on Monday evening (local time). Some reactions to the quake from folks on the scene: Cerebral Soup, Toyko Tidbits, AkuAku SF, and Vu Deja?.

Your rights as a photographer

Attorney Bert Krages has compiled a helpful guide of a person's rights as a photographer:
The right to take photographs is now under assault more than ever. People are being stopped, harassed, and even intimidated into handing over their personal property simply because they were taking photographs of subjects that made other people uncomfortable. Recent examples include photographing industrial plants, bridges, and vessels at sea. For the most part, attempts to restrict photography are based on misguided fears about the supposed dangers that unrestricted photography presents to society.

Ironically, unrestricted photography by private citizens has played an integral role in protecting the freedom, security, and well being of all Americans. Photography in the United States has contributed to improvements in civil rights, curbed abusive child labor practices, and provided information important to investigating crimes. These images have not always been pretty and often have offended the sensibilities of governmental and commercial interests who had vested interests in a status quo that was adverse to the majority in our country.
Something to keep in mind while you're snapping away at your local Starbucks.

Another guest poster to the remaindered links weblog

As some of you know, kottke.org is actually a subsidiary of Glassdog Heavy Industries & Sewing Supply Depot. I've been getting lots of pressure from corporate lately about "creating opportunities for synergy" and "being a team player". To that end, Mr. Lance Arthur will be posting to the remaindered links weblog (rss) for a few weeks. It is hoped that by doing so, I will get my executive washroom privileges back (and, I guess, some good links).

First good look at TypePad

Six Apart has posted some screenshots and a small list of frequently asked questions about their upcoming TypePad service. Looks like we finally have a weblog service that's easy enough for beginners to use but powerful & flexible enough for power users. Once TypePad launches, Google will have their work cut out for them in trying to catch up with Blogger and Blog*Spot. (And actually, I don't think Google much cares about weblogging software...they're much more interested in the search component, how to help people find information on blogs. Plus, they could easily pull a Microsoft to Six Apart's Netscape, make a free Blog*Spot Pro service, and drive 6A out of the biz...which would totally suck.)

The economic case for "it's the user experience, stupid"

Gareth Lloyd offers up an economic analysis of online music (mit graphs!) using consumer theory in How to make money from internet music (and make everybody better off in the process):
Moreover, I hope to show that despite our present gains, the internet retains great untapped potential. Apple's new iTunes Music Store is, I believe, an important precursor of what is to come. The strength of Apple's business plan lies in reducing search costs below those of the best file sharing software. If other record companies embrace internet distribution, they can do the same, and music listeners will gain access to a huge library of music. I will show that this gives a way for music companies to make money from the internet while simultaneously increasing the welfare and satisfaction of their customers.

The conclusion seems to be that music listeners have a very bright future. The only way that companies can succeed is to stop trying to exploit search costs and make their customers better off. In addition, a general reduction of search costs will lead to important secondary effects. By making it easy to search for new and better music, the internet will force companies to pay close attention to listeners and improve their products. They've long been able to make large profits on inferior products, but once listeners can find better music with minimum effort, the output of major record labels will have to improve in order to maintain market share.
That's a pretty hopeful view; it would be nice to see it come to pass, if only partially. I wonder if the music companies are doing any of this kind of analysis?
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