Meteor Blades Needs Economics
Some people think we should have more Open Threads. They remind me of the people who argue that the solution to urban traffic congestion is to widen existing freeways and build more new ones.
But every time that's done, all the extra pavement fills up with cars in half the time it was predicted.
You guys are like that. Give you a shiny new pavement, and the next thing happens is you're driving on it bumper-to-bumper with your Links and Rants, Complaints and Praise, Worries and Hopes. When will you ever get enough?
There aren't many goods in existence that humans want that aren't scarce. There are even fewer services in such a situation. We exist in a world of limited resources and time and this extends to our online digital lives as well. Daily Kos gets hundreds of thousands of hits per day and has an large, active, and registered user base that regularly pushes the blog's Open Threads past 100 comments.
So what's going on? It's a combination of the Tragedy of the Commons and the Free Rider Problem. Even though the owner of Daily Kos has "© 2004. Steal what you want." and "...everything I do on this site I do for the benefit of my readers." noted on his website, the idea of an "open thread" falls victim to the two problems mentioned above, particularly when the thread is stored on such an active server.
An apt quote from Professor Garrett Hardin, the author of the tragedy of the commons article above:
Congestion on public roads that don't charge tolls is another example of a government-created tragedy of the commons. If roads were privately owned, owners would charge tolls and people would take the toll into account in deciding whether to use them. Owners of private roads would probably also engage in what is called peak-load pricing, charging higher prices during times of peak demand and lower prices at other times. But because governments own roads that they finance with tax dollars, they normally do not charge tolls. The government makes roads into a commons. The result is congestion.
Obviously, Daily Kos is not government-owned. It is privately-owned property (to the extent that such a concept is respected by the state these days and to the extend it's owner wishes to recognize it) and as such doesn't suffer nearly as greatly as it otherwise would if anyone could anonymously comment without the restrictions of registration, moderation, and the "Mojo" rating system. However, the capabilities of the property and the size of its users are still large enough to trigger concern, even if mentioned as a wry comment.
Meteor Blades and others should keep that in mind whenever they propose further socialization of goods and services, such as they've done in regards to health care.
The answer to Meteor Blade's question is: probably never. When provided a free or near-free service, people will flock to it as long as it meets their needs. Given the value the blog's users see in Daily Kos and its continued climb in popularity, it is obvious those needs are being met and then some. People will use it more often and spread news of the service's usefulness to their friends, building a network effect that strains the infrastructure of the service.
As long as the costs don't outweigh the benefits, people will tend to consume goods and services at whatever rates they desire. This isn't complex capitalism. It's basic economics.
UPDATED 4/19/2005 10:26am
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