Blogshares – Welcome to the desert of the Real

Remember, this is just a game. A really, really complex and sophisticated game.
While you probably won’t lose your shirt if you play, it all seems pretty real to me. It’s real enough that professors, engineers, even financial writers have commented on the game. If you have a blog (or read them on a regular basis), and you haven’t heard of it yet, BlogShares is a site that tracks blogs and ranks them based on their total number of incoming links. If this sounds familiar to you, let me assure you there is way more to this game than just rankings.

According to their site, BlogShares is “a fantasy stock market where weblogs are the companies.”

Users buy and sell shares of these companies, earning fictional “BlogShares Dollars (B$)” tracked in a portfolio just like you would in the real stock market. But what began in 2003 as an “exploration of an emerging social network” and an experiment to prove the Power Law theory, seems to have really taken on a life of its own. To give you an idea of how fast the site has grown, in just over 2 years, BlogShares has gone from indexing 40,000 blogs to almost 4,000,000. Today the game has added many different forms of currency including Shares, Ideas, Chips, B$, raffles, and text ads to name a few.

One of the things i find most interesting about the game, and the reason i think it has become so successful, is that people play for different reasons. That is, people play for their own reasons. Some want to rank in the top 100. Some play for the strategy, or to test their trading skills. Others play for the extra site exposure, or simply to find more blogs to read. Yet there is a harmony to it all. Like any successful virtual micro-economy [Ebay comes to mind], it works because everyone is able to find their own reason to participate or contribute.

The other thing that i find interesting is how real world things seem to get done in these virtual micro-economies without ever touching any actual money. Take Ebay for instance. It is entirely possible for someone to sell an old watch, or some baseball cards, and put all the earnings in a paypal account. Next month, they use that cash (but it isn’t really cash yet is it?) to buy web design services from another person. That person can then go and use the virtual cash to buy a pair of shoes, or a concert ticket, or web hosting services.

What Ebay and BlogShares seem to have in common is a way for people to convert material things (products, services, even junk) into virtual currency. This type of currency can take many forms (paypal dollars or blogshares dollars). But once in this state, the object is charged with a certain amount of energy (a virtual market value). The amount of energy is directly proportional to the number of people who participate in a given community or marketplace. More people, means more matter (or potential energy). If this energy is then applied in a certain direction (for example by purchasing something), it sets off a chain reaction that continues indefinitely.

While in motion, the boundaries between virtual and real market cease to exist. People with billions of BlogShare dollars (B$), can buy real things. For instance, i saw someone who had a logo designed for his website and payed for it entirely in B$. But the effects of this transaction will not stop there, it keeps going and going [think Energizer bunny]. It reminded me of a quote from Newton’s First Law of Motion, “an object in motion tends to stay in motion”.

I’m curious to see how these money-less economies will develop in the near future. Will they extend their reach even further across the boundaries of virtual and real. Will there ever be a real stock market where weblogs are the companies? Isn’t it already real?

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