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Living things in general (maybe inanimate ones as well, to stretch a point) always seek out free and cheap. Humans are very good at uncovering resources for which they do not have to pay, or can pay much less than the benefit obtained. Americans are especially conditioned to think a wide range of goods and services are "free" -- I think not 1 in 10 understands that every time they buy a washing machine, they are paying for all the ones given away on WheelOfFortune?.

This attitude spreads throughout the world along with mass-produced affluence and sophisticated marketing techniques. The old-fashioned attitude of suspicion towards any claim of "free beer" has come to seem quaint and is being replaced with demands for more and more "free" stuff.

CyberSpace is perhaps not a special case -- merely a limit case.

Free CyberLunch?

DarpaNet? began life as a UnitedStatesGovernment? military research project, and an enormous number of tax dollars went into its development and the maintenance of the early backbone. Nearly all of the early CyberNauts? were government employees, accustomed to a more or less unlimited supply of money, goods, and services -- all at taxpayer expense, but none that they had to pay for out of their own pockets, personally. DarpaNet?, of course, evolved into today's InterNet, which some simply call the net, since it is really the only one of any consequence.

The explosive growth of the net -- led by web and email -- surfaced many new questions of business model. The early adopters all came to find FreeBeer, as well as FreeSpeech -- personally, I recall discussions of how to subvert ISP's timeouts, back when it was common to provide dialup access on a limited, timed basis. Even so, there was grumbling that access might cost as much as ten dollars a month, CashMoney.

In large part, the net backbone was still sustained by public funding -- government or quasi-government organizations and large universities. These all proceeded from a philosophy or explicit mandate of public service. The LastMile? was the frontier for entrepreneurs; still, a large proportion of users connected at no personal cost.

At this point, porno entered the marketplace. I feel this industry has never gotten the respect it deserves for pioneering the net. Porno is responsible for driving the ecommerce model, banner advertising, secured transactions, streaming video and live video chat, broadband access, image fingerprinting, and for dragging many a late adopter into the purchase of a screen and a modem -- unwilling though these users may be to admit it. The reason that porno took this leadership role is simple: Porno is something that even stubborn cheapskates are willing to pay CashMoney for. It is a contraband or taboo product, therefore inconvenient or embarrassing to purchase through other outlets; and the product itself is perfect for delivery via net and screen. Porno sites make a great deal of money; their webmasters figured out how to monetize their services while others were still struggling to keep their servers up.

Even so -- even in porno -- there has always been an enormous amount of FreeBeer content on the net. From the very beginning, nearly all content of every kind has been provided without any sort of direct charge. This is so thoroughly accepted that it seems almost silly, now, to point it out. But the most vehement defenders of FreeSpeech never insisted that newspapers be printed and given away at no charge and with no advertising.

But in CyberSpace today, it is taken for granted that the majority of all content is available at no direct cost, and when advertising is given prominence, it is bitterly resented. CyberNauts? -- which today includes a very large fraction of the world population -- demand and expect FreeBeer at every turn.

WikiFree?

Along with the growth of the net has come the OpenSource and FreeSoftware and related Movements. I see this as an outgrowth of the "hacker ethic" ("information wants to be free"). Even more so than others, those with greater technical skills have taken for free what others pay for, as a matter of course. I suggest that the philosophy -- though worthy in itself -- is a post facto rationalization.

Along came wikis, the ultimate incarnation of all of this free-foo thought. Wikis, traditionally, are absolutely "free" to all users. Anybody can edit; anybody can read; there are few or no restrictions on what can be written; and nobody pays anything.

The nadir of this line of thought has arrived at WikiPedia, where the hardliners -- including many high in the hierarchy -- are vehemently opposed to anything resembling a business model. Since they have imposed upon the Project a prohibition against self-advertising, they quite naturally forbid anyone else to advertise, thus closing off a potentially lucrative revenue stream. While there may be other ways to generate income, and good reasons for not offering ad space at any price, this leads to the extreme position in which articles on products and companies are routinely attacked as adverts -- a charge not always groundless, but impeding the development of factual articles on these subjects.

BarnstarTeeshirt s

Several months ago, I became concerned about this lack of business model, without however fully understanding the depth of Community and hierarchy resistance. In time, I even found myself threatened with vague but dire consequences for providing links to WikiMedia's own donation page. But then, still naive, I saw on that page a link to CafePress? -- where a selection of teeshirts were offered for sale.

I could not understand at first why there was not a BarnstarTeeshirt. It seemed obvious. The products offered then and now are extremely poor graphic designs, amateur efforts at best. Meanwhile, the most striking graphic design of all, the one most closely associated with WikiPedia and wikis in general (with the possible exception of the WikiPedia logo) was unavailable. Why?

I have described on BarnStarInABox the technical difficulties I discovered and my response. I assumed, stupidly, that there would be considerable demand for BarnstarTeeshirt s. I thought that many WikiHolics? would want to have one to wear themselves; and certainly the more well-respected Wikipedians might be awarded tangible tokens of appreciation. Worse yet, I failed to think ahead to the question of advertising the product. At this time, I have posted an image of the BarnstarTeeshirt and several related products on my WikiPedia user page; I think I dare not advance them to any greater prominence. (I'm mildly surprised that I haven't been attacked for that alone. Well, there's still time.) Naturally, the product has no interest at all to anyone not involved in a BarnStar-awarding wiki, so very few advertising strategies hold any promise whatever.

So, the long and the short is that all my potential customers are accustomed to participating in an expensive, sophisticated, valuable service without any exchange of CashMoney, in either direction; and I do not even have the freedom to offer my product to the Community as a whole.

It's not surprising that not one single order has yet been placed. Were I wiser, I should never have done this thing at all.

--XiongChangnian


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