Tragedy of the eCommons

Dec 24th, 2010 | By | Category: Domain Sale and Parking Tips

by Jaco From

For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, there’s a theory floating around called the Tragedy of the Commons. Hit the Wikipedia link, go read up. For those who want cliff notes, here’s the basic premise.

In the 1960’s, a man by the name of Garrett Hardin had a light bulb moment… He realized that a group of people who share a common resource- each utilizing this resource towards their own self-interest- may eventually destroy that shared, common resource in spite of the fact that it benefits no one to do so (ergo, the “Tragedy of the Commons”).

As best I can tell, this theory hits smack-dab in the heart of the domain world as it stands in the year 2009.

When we ask the fundamental question “What do people want when they go online?”, the answer is pretty clear. They want useful stuff. Maybe they want to read something for entertainment. Maybe they want news. Maybe they want to play a game. They might want to buy something, or figure out the interest rate on their mortgage. Perhaps they’re curious about who pitched in game three of the 1978 World Series. They might want to look at porn. They might want to talk to a doctor, find old friends, book a hotel or research a charity. Whatever they’re after, it all shares a single, common thread; for that place in time, they’re seeking out something meaningful to them.

Meaningful (!).

Excluding those whose name portfolios are made up of unintelligible garbage, we as domain owners occupy a very unique place in history. We’re at the absolute forefront of a globe-altering technology that will impact the way all human beings live their lives from this point forward. A person is hard-pressed to think of another time in human history when something more profound than “the internet” appeared out of the blue; perhaps television, but even then, not really. A few religions, maybe… This “internet” thing were involved in? It’s bigger than most of us even understand and brother, we ain’t seen nothing yet… We’re the lucky ones. We’re the ones who “got it” when the opportunity-window was open and grabbed our pieces of the pie while there was still grabbing to be done (some of us more than others )

A lot of us were drawn into large-scale, speculative domain ownership for the same reason. There isn’t any other vehicle on earth where something so meaningful (!)- there’s that word again, meaningful (!)- and with so much potential can be secured for so little money. Where a few bucks coupled with a good idea can translate into media that integrates itself in peoples lives, be it for a minute of any given day as they click their way through a shopping cart, or as a regular part of their morning routine. Your domain names are little, privately held pieces of this amazing collective phenomenon- fragmentary (and fundamental) building blocks that have the power to represent a meaningful (!) idea, notion, product, service, place or thing.

Whether we like it or not, search engines are an integral part of all this- arguably, the BIGGEST part. If the websites and content we create is the ultimate destination, search engines are the roads that lead to us; the conduit by which people locate the meaningful (!) content they’re after. Obviously, as a simple function of self-interest, search engines have a very strong desire to provide their users with quality content. Meaningful (!) content. This isn’t a game to see who can get the most surfers to click; it’s a larger objective, where the goal is directing people to the relevant places they really want to see. Frankly, I am not entirely unsympathetic to G when they shitcan someones adwords account because their lame, five page “minisite” garnered one too many $15 Mesotheleoma clicks out of Kathmandu. The objective is meaningful (!) content- not “optimized” content built on desirable e-real estate- and the potential for such content exists in every good domain, but instead, entirely too many of us are squandering this amazingly powerful resource for something else. Something meaningless.

When you, as a domain owner, put your great names on parking or toss up a low-quality “minisite” to generate traffic, you’re effectively becoming a retrograding force against the clear objective that every search engine has and every user wants- the delivery of meaningful (!) content. No matter how well ‘optimized’ your content may be, if it isn’t delivering something meaningful, you can safely assume that eventually (if not already), search engines will roll up the welcome mat and kick your ass to the curb. In developing such meaningless content, you aren’t achieving anything beyond ‘gaming’ the system, so don’t cry when ‘the system’ games back. Can meaningless content be profitable? Thus far, yes. Is the strategy of creating meaningless-albeit-optimized content sustainable as we go forward? I do not believe so.

Given the place we occupy in history, domain owners are at a crossroads. We’ve locked up the best virtual real estate tight as a drum and collectively, have the ability to cement our stations as kings of new media, right at our fingertips. The thing is, we don’t seem to want it. Instead, we’re behaving like a bunch of lazy bastards meandering down a pathetic path of least resistance, benefiting no one but ourselves, which in turn forces the rest of the world to devise ways to make what we do less and less relevant. Let it be argued here and now that unproductive domaining is a severe drag to the overall progress of the internet-at-large and in time- be it from an ICANN strategy or something else- things will be forced to change… either the ways entities are identified on the web (see: unlimited TLD’s as the first salvo in this), or the rules and costs associated with name ownership.

Thankfully, some people in the industry “get it”. The Castillo Brothers “get it”. Guys like Skip Hoagland seem to “get it”. in general “gets it”. This isn’t to lambaste people like Frank Schilling or Kevin Ham- god knows if I had a time machine, I would go back in time and do precisely what they did- but it is absolutely to say that unproductive use of a finite (and necessary) resource can have severe macro consequences.

If our community is to avoid this same ‘common tragedy’, we must figure out a way to ensure that meaningful domain names are enriched with equally meaningful content. There will be competition and like anything else, the best will rise to the top while the weak are culled, but if we keep going down the path we’re presently on, “domainers” will find ourselves marginalized to the periphery of a productive internet world that finally figured out a way to work around us. If you aren’t concerned with the bigger picture- go ahead and **** community altruism… consider the impact this behavior has on your own bottom line. The “game” you are playing is being run and managed by people who want meaningful (!) content. If you want to get paid, you had better be prepared (and able to) deliver it.

Feel free to laugh at/mock/deride/deny this post, today. Just make sure to copy it and read it some from now- and see who’s laughing then.


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