Extracting Value From Free
In his latest manifesto, Kevin Kelly likens the Internet to a copy machine that logs information at every turn, instantly transforming original content into multiple versions of itself made available to anyone that wants to search for it at the low cost of “free.” He further explains that the Internet’s “super-distribution system” simultaneously forms the basis on which our new global economy is founded by providing for the easy transfer of data and ideas and undermines at the very same time, through its ability to duplicate everything. The very notion of selling the “precious” copy that once existed has disappeared in a virtual world of abundance. Kelly then asks, “how do we extract any value out of an equation where the bottom line is already at zero?” (Value in this case referring to the almighty dollar as opposed to meaning which we are to assume is intrinsic in the thing itself.) He sees the solution to this conundrum hinging on being able to identify qualities that themselves can’t be copied and believes we must do this from the perspective of a user. Kelly refers to these as “generatives” – things that are better than free.