Serfing the web

The Economist, Nov. 11, 2010:

Both Google and Facebook are run like absolute monarchies in which hundreds of millions of users (digital serfs, some might say) have created identities. Rather like mercantilist countries in the offline realm, both companies operate policies to protect this asset.

Brad Burnham at Union Square Ventures, Jun. 10, 2010:

Facebook is a government. Facebook’s users are citizens, and Facebook’s applications developers are the private companies that drive much of the economy. Apple. Twitter, Myspace, Craigslist, Foursquare, Tumblr and every other large network of engaged users (including some services of Google) plays a similar role. We have always tacitly acknowledged this. We talk about these networks as communities, communities have governments.

David Carr, Dec. 19, 2006:

What’s being concentrated, in other words, is not content but the economic value of content. MySpace, Facebook, and many other businesses have realized that they can give away the tools of production but maintain ownership over the resulting products. One of the fundamental economic characteristics of Web 2.0 is the distribution of production into the hands of the many and the concentration of the economic rewards into the hands of the few. It’s a sharecropping system, but the sharecroppers are generally happy because their interest lies in self-expression or socializing, not in making money, and, besides, the economic value of each of their individual contributions is trivial. It’s only by aggregating those contributions on a massive scale – on a web scale – that the business becomes lucrative. To put it a different way, the sharecroppers operate happily in an attention economy while their overseers operate happily in a cash economy. In this view, the attention economy does not operate separately from the cash economy; it’s simply a means of creating cheap inputs for the cash economy.

We need a people’s revolution.