Posted by: rolfsky | February 8, 2007

web 2.0 is all within walking distance

Expanding upon yesterday’s entry comparing Kansas with Massachusetts, the analog is more apt than I’d originally noticed.

A few posts ago, I identified the Military, Corporate, Social pattern where because of approachable investment many technologies are first designed and researched by the military, co-opted and modified for business, and finally launched into a social sphere on the waiting public.

Considering factors separating Massachusetts and Kansas, it’s no wonder that the roads turned out differently. Massachusetts, one of the very first western-colonized areas what would later become the United States was by all accounts a wilderness requiring massive manpower to clear land for farming. A glance as the terrain will also show you the varied locales in which farmers found themselves, often hemmed in by hills, valleys, and oceans. When so much energy is required to clear only a tiny part of acreage, you tend to think small. Just you and your immediate family, because not only do you have to survive, you have to pay for your property. Making a much larger stake isn’t really an approachable investment as you’re probably dirt poor to begin with, and who wants a piece of property that’s hard to farm because it’s broken in half by a hill?

Not only is farming hard, but road-building is doubly difficult. More than likely, initial “roads” started out as just following game paths from point to point as animals have an uncanny way of reducing their energy expenditure if they can help it. So paths became trails, trails became rutted muddy trails, muddy trails became rutted muddy roads, and you’d like to spend as little time as possible traversing these roads in the cold, dark Massachusetts winter. You wanted all the really important stuff within walking distance, so you beat a path of least-resistance to everything interesting, but nothing interesting that you couldn’t reach in a day. Incidentally, these roads became property boundaries because one piece of property with a road through it is bothersome, but TWO pieces of property both with road-front edges is actually valuable. (Because a road has two sides, each of equal value to a merchant.)

Kansas of course is drier, flatter, and a virtual barren wasteland in comparison. Giant pieces of rectangular land were so similar that one was nearly as good as another. They gave it away for free. A more approachable investment when you get a giant square of land for free? You betcha. Because of the terrain, building roads was easier as well and what course is the easiest if you’re the government surveyor? Follow the lines already laid out for you. As a bonus, straight roads that skirt parcels cross over and annoy the fewest farmers trying to just survive on their land.

So now we have an idea of why Massachusetts roads and cities look more “organic” than Kansas. We recognize “organic” as a quality of construction, because nature seeks to minimize waste. Anything you waste, your competitor gains. Stressed by intense difficult conditions, Massachusetts grew organically — that is — with a minimum of wasted energy and a sustainable rate. Kansas on the other hand had the whole process turned on its ear by free land and a government dying to get people to settle there. Remove some of the costs, and a lot of things make sense that didn’t before, like taking the long way ’round because all the roads are parallel.

So getting back to the Mil-Corp-Social construct, we can take a look at Web 1.0 and understand not only the bubble bursting but also Web 2.0. In the early ’90s, the web was the thing. It painted dollarsigns in the eyes of traditional companies, and they threw their cash at it. At this point, the corporate structure was willing to _give_ away investment dollars, because they thought that they’d get fabulously rich. When you remove money as an obstacle, a lot of things seem like a good idea, when they’re really not. Corp dollars fed this fire, building business-sponsored websites reeking of straight lines and careful engineering. A lot of projects were built on a hope, and nearly all of them came crashing down because they were not within walking distance of their target market.

Now, there wasn’t much “organic” small-investment growth at this point, because the web was still expensive. To build anything cool you needed massive data-centers, brilliant programmers, angel investors and patent attorneys on retainer. This was not an approachable investment for any sane firm because in order to get those supplies (which were in short supply), you had to put your dollar against a dollar that someone else didn’t have to earn.

A few years later, the tables have turned. The massive corporate investment laid a groundwork of hardware and software, and got a lot of people thinking. Some of those people went out, said to hell with corporations, and started working on their own projects, which they gave away for free. If their employers didn’t recognize their genius, someone else in the world could. Poof, viola! Open Source being written on cheap, company-owned or surplus computers by corporate-trained programmers, all hell-bent on “doing something”.

The whole infrastructure has become cheaper, and now thousands of ideas are within walking distance.


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