Digital commons

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Dandelion girl.jpg
A young avatar playing on the digital commons yesterday.

In which the curmudgeonly old sod puts the world to rights.
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The central irony of the digital commons: since the practical means of separating of information from its substrate became available to all,[1] any digital artefact — any code — can be instantly and costlessly replicated. No consumables, no materials,[2] no labour, no storage, no transport cost. Thus: problem: unless someone trying to make money out of the materials she finds lying around on that common can extract rent somehow, her profit margins will quickly tend to zero — if they don’t start there — as the code she wishes to use in her product, and being its sole value, is freely reproducible to anyone else who cares to bend down and pick it up.

Hence, to make money out of the fruits of one’s past digital labours, one must seek rent.

Two ways of doing that are by:


  • creating a practical, and defendable, monopoly. Happily, distributed digital networks lend themselves very nicely to that. Indeed, the fact that the greatest distributed digital network of them all, the internet, isn’t a monopoly is an irony almost too great to bear.

The honour roll of companies who have made a fortune from the internet coincides exactly with those who have built a defendable monopoly.

Extracting rent is the “Rolling Stones” paradigm: Spend fifteen minutes, asleep, writing a guitar riff and monetising it for sixty years.

But there is another way, and it is the modern way of making money in the internet age: play live. Be paid upfront for your unique experience and expertise, each time, to create new products which, once completed, are free for your client to use.

See also


  1. The JC dates this to the widespread introduction of email, but the fabulous James Burke makes a good argument that it started 200 is years ago with the Jacquard loom.
  2. Barring a trivial amount of electricity and no I am not including Blockchain in that sweeping generalisation.