Trade reborn through diversity
© Copyright 1994-2002, Rishab Aiyer Ghosh. All rights reserved.
Electric Dreams #65

When information is valueless, for it can be reproduced infinitely, the value shifts to its properties. One, consistency, enhances the importance of relationships between creator and client so diminishing the role of trade. The other, diversity, effectively equates producer and consumer, making trade predominant.

This is evident on the Internet, where there has been, so far, little concern for the rights of the originators of content, whose association with their creations remains ignored. While this behaviour is changing fast, it has resulted in a low level of content whose value is purely in its consistency. The Net compensates with a large quantity of content whose value is in its variety. This tilt towards diverse content makes the Internet the closest thing there is to a single source - sprawling and imperfect - for information on everything.

The Net is also the source of new models for trade in the knowledge economy - a trade that will be not in information, but in variety. Traders will not, as they do now, collect information from a producer and pass it on to a consumer, making profits along the way. Instead they will try to make sense of the diverse creations of actual producers of knowledge, squeezing the universe of the infosphere into a point, forming a concentrated source for consumers seeking content. Producers and consumers may conduct the actual exchange of data independent of the trader, who will have to find profit from the sole act of introducing them to one another.

Once a consumer contacts a producer, there is not much of a role for intermediaries, for if contact is prolonged the consumer will quickly find value in the consistency of the producer's content and the business model will move away from that of trade in variety. This also implies that traders will benefit from dealing in the widest possible range of content, not from specializing.

The other reason for this variety lies in the major difference between the roles of producer and consumer in these two models of value - in variety and in consistent content. A producer of original, consistent content clearly differs from the consumer, who is the client in a continuing relationship. On the other hand, a visitor to a trader's index of content is obviously a consumer. However, the same visitor is likely to be searching for content quite outside her field of expertise - where she could well be a producer in her own right. Producers and consumers change places frequently in a knowledge economy, and they are most likely to do this with the aid of a trader - who is in some sense plays both roles simultaneously.

But most content will still be exchanged without the direct involvement of traders. In the disorganized and often semi-formal economies - local exchange trading systems and 'cooking-pot markets' - which seem most suited to the business of information, traders will provide some measure of order. They will play a crucial role, despite - or perhaps because of - their detachment from the chaos of knowledge exchange.

This applies, at least, to static resources on the Internet - traders can point the way to dead content. Dynamic resources, the live content of the Net's mailing lists and newsgroups, are not content really but people - and this business, of implicit cooperatives and the collective creation of knowledge, finds value both in consistency and diversity. Trade will be transformed for this, too.

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