I'm going to post this on my own blog as I'm waiting in the moderator's queue at Crap Mariner's blog.
Crap has his own good answer to the oft-posed snarky question of geeks, to the effect that land should just be made available for free, land barons are evil middlemen, etc.
Harper Beresford is merely the latest in a long line of nasties positing this question. What's most annoying about this oft-represented and privileged point of view is that people holding the view have no idea they are in a minority. That they are the *minority* point of view in Second Life. Because the vast silent majority buying land and taking it for real and placing value in it don't take part in intellectual debates about it, they assume the coast is clear to keep articulating the nihilist and destructivist concept of land-as-value (which is far more than land-as-metaphor). Harper can say she finds "the strangest thing in SL" that land is for sale, merely because in her MUDs or MOOs it wasn't -- although she might concede that a WoW membership rightfully pays $15.00 for programmers' content and server access (that we should pay a fee for access to each others' content as users evades her completely).
Several people baited me on Twitter, or discussed among themselves whether I would debate Harper on her blog. And the answer is no, I won't even link to it. You can't debate someone with an unexamined religious belief. I have the *other* religious belief on this, but I've examined it, thought about it for many years, and bolstered it. Religious beliefs are good things to have, but you need to examine them and back them up, and not pretend they are "the truth" and there are no other religious beliefs : )
As I suggested on Twitter, come the revolution, she will be sentenced to 90 days of exile and forced to read P.J. O'Rourke's Eat the Rich. And yes, there will be a quiz.
Not surprising for this point of view (it is articulated in exact, verbatim, picture-perfect conformist form as every other unthinking geek who has posited it), it culminates in what I call "the forced migration policy". It's like the Soviet Union and the Jews. They say -- if you don't like it, leave. Of course, leaving is a loss and an uprooting -- and begs the question: but why can't the host change and respect minorities and stop persecuting them?
In the case of Second Life, however, the overwhelming amount of value created and maintained in the world comes from land owners and land dealers. It is the overwhelming percent of Linden Lab's bottom line. And a failure to grasp these two bedrock principles of Second Life are really the chief obstacle to its development right now. It might be that such a land-based concept cannot scale. That might mean having to spin off different grids that would only be lightly linked or begin to require separate log-ins and account names and such. So be it. I would rather have universal values and endless variations under those freedoms, with separate companies, separate grids, separate log-ins, then a forced connectivity that dumbs down the suite of services, destroys value, and takes a nihilist position on the rule of law to satisfy some collectivist Better World notion. In fact, open sourcing that devalues land is that forced connectivity; it makes people dependent on coders and inhabitants of the company towns they generate (proprietary code built on opensource software) and makes them unfree, unable to ascribe and retain and trade value on their own.
Crap, you *do* realize, I expect, that Harper is doing nothing more than reciting what hundreds of cynical and nasty geeks have said before her on the official forums and hundreds of geeky blogs for years? Over and over again, we've heard it: land has no value, land should be given away for free, land barons are evil because they arbitrage based on a notion of scarcity that is false. Over and over again -- with never a zooming out to look at the entire construct, and to look at Land Baron Number One, Philip Rosedale.
That's why I don't even grace Harper's blog with traffic and commentary because my own blog has challenged this strait-jacketed mentality for nearly 4 years, as you may realize. This is merely the latest and most snotty reiteration of the concept.
Even Lindens will concede privately that they should have staged the price drop -- I think they didn't realize its impact. And the delay of the opening of the Land Store may be hinged upon that growing awareness.
You don't have to be a raving immersionist role-playing fantasy nit somehow "believing in the fiction" of land to grasp a very essential thing here: Second Life isn't a mere server rack, the space you rent or buy as land isn't mere server space, and the value people place in land is real because it is both an actual repository of, and a visual representation of, the social graph and many more complex things no social graph can capture.
Failure to grasp this, and constant narrow-minded cynicism about it, is one of the great hobblers of SL's development -- starting within the Linden camp itself, even, among the most literalist of geeks who hate land (they want a completely different model) -- even Mitch Kapor with his cynical "hosting service" stuff or Gene Yoon nattering about "the product" -- and ending with the Lindens' best friends and office-hour frequenters like Harper.
Why is land not only a good metaphor, but actually more of a literalist *material* explanation for real phenomenon that goes on in a virtual world, phenomenon that even SL's makers, the Lindens, don't seem to get?
Because land holds value. This is something any Twittering twit geek will dispute, because it offends their sense of "reality" that something that is to them a by-product or artifact of users' use of their programming could acquire any separate life outside of their proprietal coded sphere. Therein lies the crux of the issue. Builders of malls, parks, baseball fields, libraries, etc. don't reach in and grab at the social graph and valuation with quite the same reckless zeal; they know where their building leaves off, and people begin. Virtual world coders can stay immersed in their illusion of proprietary totalitarianism because people themselves are forced to render as their coded artifacts --avatars.
At root, the struggle for meaning and valuation of land in SL is a struggle againt coder hegemony and oppressiveness. At the extreme end of the spectrum, the copyleftists and copybotters want programmed artifacts to be free, copyable, never permissioned, because they believe they own everything coded, and even a sold object is not really owned by the person who bought it, who, in their mind (and in the TOS language), have aquired merely a temporary, limited license to partially access content -- a kind of movie ticket or carnival ticket, if you will. That's why you get Greg L on Terra Nova feverishly trying to rally the troops against any notion of cyber property.
You're focusing on the other hosting/application management features of SL as a geek yourself, and quite properly. Isn't this entire enchilada called "Software as Service" (SaSS) or something like that? It's a school of thought/trend.
I would add to your list of services:
o software updates
But more than software-as-service, when you buy land, you don't get merely a server rack to store your data (inventory), in a 3-D streaming world you get:
o community -- people organized around themes or locations -- land metaphor materializes location
o serendipity -- the ability to randomly meet people of interest to you -- you literally bump into them on contiguous land
o asynchronous and persistent communication and interaction -- land enables you to leave content for others to use, which you can control access to (web pages not as good for that, with less refined tools available for an average user)
o collaborative building tools and individual building tools
o group communciation and management tools
o prototyping and acceleration of models with selected colleagues or general public
In other words, the $1000 you pay buys you all of those things I just mentioned, which aren't available on the flat Internet with its racked server space in anything like the deep and nuanced and immersive way it is in SL -- and when I say "immersive," I don't mean role-playing an elf in your basement, I mean the ability to have very detailed visual representations, very interesting and accelerated visualization and interactivity of models, etc. -- you could be merely trying out an ad as a business, or building a widget interface and seeing how it worked for people. You buy *that* when you buy land.
On the Internet, you put up a page, you struggle to get into search engines, but you are forced to wait. Wait for people/traffic/buyers who may never come. In SL, as in RL, you can pay for a high-trafficked mall outlet to get visibility; you can invest time in meeting people serendipitously at events; you can use search/places/traffic to find what you wish and link to it faster and more meaningfully than you can trying to link on the Internet.
The $1000 buys you the link farm.
When people tell you that they can do all this without land, they are merely mooching on other people's land, or sitting on Linden land, which is also a form of socialism one can't expect to last forever. The sandboxes and welcome areas are overrun with griefers anyway, like all socialist projects where property isn't expected and maintained.
What's wrong with Harper's basic analysis is that it stems from hatred and aversion: hatred of land barons and hatred of people placing value in land and land services. Why such unexamined hate and disdain? Well, because she believes in privileging content-makers/creators and the idea that only software/pixelated designed creations should be the arbiters of value in a world and in an economy. She's no different than Aimee Weber, who said all these theories with more clear charts and graphs with her "Platformist" stuff; she's no different than the people who endlessly leave snarky comments on my blog about how I and other readers should go get a life, realize SL is just a server rack, etc.
This aversion goes very, very deep and -- I can't stress this enough, sorry -- is usually completely unexamined. Unfortunately for her, there are *other people* in this world who are in a different class, if you will, with a different set of values, and they will fight to the end for them. It's not unlike the clash of values between Palestinians and Israelis, really, and around some of the same issues (individual vs. collective, etc.).
Harper displayed this hatred directly against me in the Metanomics group, when I urged the hecklers on There.com to stop their group hate session and end their tribalist approach to other platforms. Because she felt "the collective" "should" hate on there.com, she began swinging at me, accusing me of being a greedy land baron only interested in profit and real estate as a business. It betrays a profound lack of awareness (for someone in a group studying economics) about how economies work, how people create and maintain value.
Basically, there are two religious beliefs about value, upon which all economic theory is constructed, and you either believe one or the other, and they are merely religious doctrines, with better or worse exemplification in real-life examples:
1. Value is created both by skilled entrepreneurs and energetic amateurs -- individuals -- who create most and best when left free to do so -- there is no scarcity of value itself; there is only scarcity of people with skills and energy to create value. One person making a profit makes value that others can also benefit from as they make value.
2. Value is inherent as a national or group trust, it is a fixed commodity or generated by collectives, and must be distributed or redistributed equally. It is scarce, and must be rationed. If one person appears to make a profit, he takes it at the expense of another.
These two views, capitalism and communism if you will, and their variants, basically form the root of disagreements about economic systems.
Technolib geeks represent an interesting problem. On the one hand they believe there is no scarcity of something like land or artifacts of their own programming. On the other hand, they can concede scarcity of talented programmers and actual server space/cost (if pressed -- they usually don't, thinking land should be $0 because it can be printed endlessly, never factoring in server farm cost and programming cost).
But at heart, they are followers of the traditions of no. 2, because they believe they are in a collective enterprise where value should be redistributed, and that if someone gains, it is at someone else's expense, so they are very tribalist about keeping equilibrium as they understand it.
While it might seem that someone like Philip Rosedal is a believer of theory no. 1, as an individual entrepreneur, he is haunted by his belief in no. 2, and forms a collective and tells a very grand tale about a Better World whose objective is to redistribute wealth -- ours, not his.