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Buy, Sell, Hold, Blog
Mahesh Shantaram |
May 01, 2003 15:58 IST
Now, you needn't just read Weblogs. A virtual stock market lets you trade in them
Many of us built our first houses, dealt in property, managed public utilities, and went to jail much before we were into our teens. That was in the make believe world of Monopoly, of course. Money games are a great way to learn about the harsh realities of a capitalist world without going through the pains of bankruptcy, insolvency, mortgages, and other such concepts of advanced living.
Now that games have migrated from foldable boards to the Net, the latest sensation that's grabbing the attention of netizens is BlogShares (www.blogshares.com), an online stock market in which you get to speculate on the future of your favourite blogs.
To put things in perspective. Blogs, or weblogs, are frequently updated Web pages published by individuals and even companies to communicate with the world at large. Blogging has attained such popularity that it is often referred to as a phenomenon. The sphere of influence a blog is generally gauged by the blogs linking to it. That means a blog's importance grows if several other important (well-linked) bloggers link to it. It makes sense because this is how we work in real life too: we are known by the company we keep. And what are blogs but an online extention of ourselves?
In many ways, BlogShares simulates the working of a real stock exchange. Blogs are to BlogShares what companies are to stock markets, and links are the assets that drive valuations. Every player gets 500 BlogShare dollars upon signup. There are thousands of virtual dollars to be made in the BlogShares market as long as you stick to the thumb rule of dealing in stocks: buy low, sell high.
How you play BlogShares depends on what you want from it. For some, the objective is to get their blogs on the Top 100 Index. For others, it's about being part owners of the world's best blogs. "I think it's important to stress here the part about not needing a blog to play. This game is mainly about one thing: your user portfolio," advices Jay Allen, a blogger from Budapest, Hungary, who's got it all worked out. "The aim is solely to be the one lying on the beach on a south Pacific island sipping sweet drinks from a coconut and making sure that the umbrella doesn't poke you in the eye."
In the rare case that you're not able to expend all your free time blogging, now you have whole markets to track. And be warned; it's addictive. "Blogshares will be my downfall. I have spent more time managing my portfolio than I have ever spent in the bank all my life," says Prema, who trades from her homebase in Cyberjaya, the hi-tech city near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It doesn't help that there's no "end of day's trade" in this market.
While you can invest in shares of any blog, it's a different experience to be answerable to demanding shareholders. Seyed Razavi, the programmer and thinker behind BlogShares, observes, "On the first level we have roleplaying. Some players play their role as a CEO of a 'company'. Their inclination to demand accurate metrics for their company is indicative of how seriously they take things already and is not surprising given most weblogs are a projected persona of the person involved. We also have observed behaviour modifications...because the game is a psychological phenomenon worth measuring."
The phenomenon in question is Pareto's Law of income distribution that was recently applied to blogging by Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor in the interactive telecommunications program at New York University. In his essay on 'Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality', Shirky examined why a few blogs hog all the attention on the Internet -- something that's been bothering a majority of bloggers who find it increasingly difficult to enjoy their 15 minutes of fame under the blogging sun. It inspired Razavi enough to create BlogShares to function as an interactive model to illustrate the law within what he calls "the attention economy".
Heavy stuff indeed, but academics aside, BlogShares is a game of fame and not fortune, which is what makes it different from a real stock market. "For it to have any profound effect, we need to play with real money," says Mumbai-based blogger Yazad Jal, who's been busy "making a killing" in vain.
And then there are the critics. Engel Cox, blogging from Washington, DC, wants no part of this madness. "What concerns me is that they are only tracking links to other blogs. There's already enough of a cult of personality surrounding this medium that having a fantasy market to encourage it seems not only unnecessary, but counter-productive," he reasons.
One financial writer and market critic has spent time poking at the system and might have hit upon a way to snap up dozens of blogs and drive prices up. "Once we have acquired control of several Internet properties, could we force a merger? It's only natural that we'd start looking for 'synergies', and try to replace ten bloggers with one semi-literate goof in the hopes that readers won't notice," he speculates, true to the spirit of playing the markets. Can it get any closer to real life than this?
At the end of a three-week phase of beta testing, there were a staggering 40,000 listed blogs. Over 5000 active players carry out thousands of transactions every day, sending valuations of some blogs to dizzying heights. But when BlogShares officially opens on May 1, the system will be reset to zero--a tough decision that Razavi had to take after much pondering.
It's your now-or-never chance to fish at the bottom of the market and rise to the Top 100. Trading hours have begun.
Mahesh Shantaram blogs at Filter Coffee