The end of the Nethernet(?)

The Nethernet is turning off its lightposts, powering down its portals and slowly going dark. Lets hope they enter the liberating portal of Free Software.

Nethernet LogoThe Nethernet, a browser-based game formerly known as PMOG was an innovative attempt to make the whole internet a virtual playground where people could interact passively during their normal use. As a concept I found it brilliant and I blogged about it when I first started using it as I thought it had a lot of potential to spread ideas around while being fun.

However I soon stopped using it as the experience was very buggy on a GNU/Linux system and it was having very infrequent updates, not enough features to make it more addictive and it just couldn’t keep my interest (although that’s nothing new, WoW couldn’t keep my interest either.) Nevertheless, I had subscribed to their official blog to keep abreast of their progress and hopefully jump in at some point when it would be more fully fledged. And in fact I did, just a few days ago, shortly after the Nethernet toolbar finally hit version 1.0.0.

Well to my surprise, today my RSS reader brought up the post announcing the end of the Nethernet, ironically called “The Nethernet Moving Forward”. In short, The Nethernet is being shut down because of the very high costs associated with hosting and developing it. While the shutting down news came as a bit of a surprise, seeing as there was no warning at all and everything seemed to be like business as usual until the weekend, the ongoing troubles they were having with bandwidth were noted while their sudden and heavy handed attempt to introduce micro-payments were an obvious display of their monetary troubles.

Personally I smell the investor’s hand in this. Gamelayers and the Nethernet was quite a bit backed by venture capitalists and their board of directors is practically run by them. As such, it was a matter of time before a resource-heavy game that failed to find a business plan to monetize all their traffic would start to raise questions about its viability by the investors. My impression is that the developers were given an ultimatum on this by their investors: “Either find a way to make money out of this within the next month or we stop funding you.” Or something to that extent. As such we saw the wholly misguided attempt to introduce “bacon” (ie micropayments) to the game which had the effect of driving a very considerable number of the community away (Just look at the comments on their post about it).

And now, almost exactly one month later, once it became obvious that their community abandoned them (or once a deadline was crossed?) the plug is pulled. The question is, what now? I mean, it’s obvious that the hosting won’t continue for much longer by Gamelayers (possibly until their server leasing expires?) so at some point the Nethernet will go 503.

But what happens to the assets? Personally I think it would be a shame to simply lose all this effort in code and artwork and I think the very best idea would be to simply open source the source of the servers and the firefox extension (if it isn’t already) and allow people to possibly find a way to continue with it. It obvious from the developers’ point of view that they’re not going to be working on the game any time soon so why let it go to waste.

What I did find interesting as well was the number of people who suggested the exact same thing in the fora, before I even came around to add my own voice. There were at least 5-6 different people suggesting an open sourcing of the game which just goes to show how mainstream the idea of free software has already become. But I digress…

But if the costs were too high for gamelayers, why would a free software adaptation of it be possible? Well because the code might be modified so that the resource use becomes distributed. I think the biggest mistake of Gamelayers was their protective and secretive nature on all things related to The Nethernet, even up to and including the announcement of the shutdown that came as a surprise even to some of the most valued members of their community. If they had allowed far more crowdsourcing of various aspects of the game, (eg: badge creation), perhaps this unfortunate fate might have been avoided.

But where Gamelayers failed, perhaps the community driven creativity, from players, for players, might make the Nethernet what it could have been. I can only imagine solutions such as federated servers, each of them possible to be hosted by any person’s desktop, sharing resources to allow the game to run smoothly. A team of free software programmers simply coding in the tools that people really want to have, that will make the game far more immersive and exciting, instead of the semi-boring event it is now. And by the nature of Free Software, you might see other versions of the Nethernet spring up, based on different universes rather than the same Victorian Steampunk one PMOG was always based on, again connected via distributed computing.

The possibilities are always there, but it is the curse of closed source initiatives to be always be based on the limited perspective of the developers, rather than opening up to the creativity of people “scratching their own itch”. Lets all hope that in the end, they will at least do the right thing and release the code under the AGPL as Nethernet’s last hurrah.

Pathfinder Db0, signing out…

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But won’t communism lead to stagnation?

It is often claimed that because under communism “everyone will earn the same” there will be no incentive for people to work harder. Is this so?

Communism is frequently accused of having a system which promotes laziness and drudgery. They posit that this happens because as in the system everyone is equal and the incentive of people to compete with their fellow man is not there, nobody feels the need to innovate, be creative or productive. And since the state will reward everyone the same no matter what they do, as in a prisoner’s dillema, people will prefer to “defect” from work.

This problem did seem realistic to me when I knew little about it and before I actually gave more thought to it. How indeed do you make people work if they are not going to be rewarded for their trouble anymore than their lazy ass neighbour who sits and watches television all day?

The answer to this problem lies in understanding that reward does not drop down from the non-existent state but that simply the reward of each worker comes from the work they do. One of the core tenets of communism is that the total value of labour, which includes the surplus value which currently goes to the non-working capitalist, belongs to the worker who produces it.

Lets say that I work in a factory making cars with a thousand other people and we make a 1000 cars, each of us ends up owning one. Once I have a car, either I can keep working in the same factory (say because I like the work or because I do not care to learn anything else) or I can move to another job, say making computers.

But what about the people who don’t want to work in the car factory. Don’t they get a car? Of course they do. It’s very easy for a car factory to give one car to each of its workers and after that, the rest of the cars can be given for free for anyone who requests one. And why not? After all, while working at the car factory, I got to eat food for free from the bakers, got the raw material for free from the steel and plastic workers,  got to enjoy culture for free from the artists etc ((This does not happen through state allocation but rather through classic supply & demand. I will attempt to tackle this in another post)).

As such, the incentive of people to be productive lies in the fact that they will get to own the result of their increased productivity. Not only that, but people have a large incentive to be more productive because that way they get to work less hours.

If you think that this is an unrealistic scenario and that this can never work you might be benefit from looking at the free software movement.
Why does a Free Software programmer help coding a program when he’s not getting paid for it? Very often it’s because he needs it to do something he can’t at the moment. But why do it for free instead of selling his labour to the highest bidder? It’s because he knows that he will get to reap the results of his labour. Not only that but once more programmers join, he will get to reap the results of their labour as well, while all of them get to work less hours individually.
Furthermore, the Free software programmer knows that there are other free software programmers out there who do the same thing as he, but in their own projects. He gets to reap the results of their labour and they do the same. Similar to my previous example of cars for food, raw materials and art.

But the free software movement is comprised from generally middle class people who can afford to do it as a hobby, generally middle class people or students. Most cannot concentrate their full potential on it because they must put a good part of it on their normal work or school. Imagine what they would do if they could work totally free without worrying about survival. Imagine what any other worker could do if he had the freedom these renegade programmers do.

‘But what about innovation?’ I hear you ask. What’s the point of someone inventing new gadgets, systems or whatnot? I already mentioned that people have an incentive to be more productive as in that way they will get to work less hours. Well, this is what machines do isn’t it? They make people more productive. The workers have thus an incentive to create new and better machinery in order to reduce the time they have to spend working.

Medicine? Art? As is obvious from even our current culture, people who are inclined to those paths generally provide their own incentive. An artist keeps creating despite the fact that in our capitalist culture he cannot make any money of it. If anything, under Communism instead of the pop-culture we have to endure because it’s the only thing that can bring a profit, artists can follow their own muse and create the new and interesting things they should. Instead of medicine and science being driven by profit, with all the known problems of that, it will be driven by need and creativity. A future Tesla will not have to die poor and starving because his exciting new science could not find sponsors or he did not understand economics, but rather will have the necessities he needs to focus on his work as much as he needs.

Of course, it is conceivable that social parasites will manage to find a way to survive within communism. Perhaps they will prefer to hide how little they work, or they will group together and avoid working, I don’t know. The thing is that it’s much more difficult to hide from the people you have to work with who know they will have to pick up the slack. Where in a capitalist corporation the parasite can simply suck up to the boss and get off lightly, in Communism, there is no boss to speak of and the other workers will quickly put them in their place when they discover them, or at worst, ostracise them.

But lets take the worst case scenario, that somehow these parasites manage to survive and hide within a communist system. What is the difference from our current system? Under capitalism we have parasites who not only don’t need hide but are actually the ones who wield all the power. They’re called Capitalists. The rich do not need to work, their money works for them. All they need to do is sit around all day and give orders to the ones who are not as rich as they. The life of the rich is one who does not contribute anything to society and gets to reap all the benefits. And the worst part is that the overwhelming percentage of them do not even need to work to reach that level. They simply are born into wealth.