I Got Your Virtual Property Right Here!

Column written by Jon Splatz on Saturday, May 8, 1999

from the Virtual-Pundit-For-Sale dept.

Recently there's been a lot of commotion about "virtual property", which has been described as a new, revolutionary phenomenon to hit the Internet. Contrary to what you might have read over at Slashdot, "virtual property" is not a new, revolutionary concept. It's just a fancy buzzword to describe a common, every day occurrence. I should know; I'm a bona fide piece of "virtual property". I'm currently up for auction at eBay.

I've put my pundit and social commentary services up for bid at eBay. The winning bidder of this piece of "virtual property" will recieve my expert services as a pundit for six months. I've only received one US$100 bid (a sympathy bid from James Baughn), but I expect that by the time my auction closes in six days, the bidding will surpass my low reserve of US$100,000.

Buying and selling online assets is not something that has only sprung up recently on eBay; it's been around since the dawn of computing. For instance, I've heard from a reliable source that, back in 1994, a man named Bob made a deal with Bill Gates involving "virtual property". In exchange for an undisclosed amount of money, Gates agreed to name an upcoming Microsoft program after him.

More recently, Red Hat announced a plan where venture capitalists and businesses that invest in the company will receive a complementary piece of virtual property based on the amount they invest. Details are sketchy, but I know that "Gold" investors will receive an exclusive right to submit the code-name for an upcoming Red Hat Linux release. For instance, RH 5.9, code-named "Starbuck", was named by a VC who happens to own a considerable stake in Starbucks, Inc. Red Hat 6.1 will be named "BunnyPeople", a reference to Intel, a significant investor in the company.

In addition, an unconfirmed rumor is floating around that a multi-billion dollar piece of hot cyberproperty will be up for grabs in the near future. I heard this rumor from a top-secret organization based in... oh, wait, I'm not supposed to talk about that... I've said too much already. Forget you read that last sentence. There is no top-secret organization based in Finland plotting world domination. There is no conspiracy.

According to the rumor, eBay plans to auction itself off via an eBay auction. Apparently the eBay executives, many of which have become multi-multi-millionaires from stock options, are wanting to hand over control of the company to someone else so they can retire. The traditional way to sell off a company is to make deals with potential buyers in a smoke-filled room. The eBay honchos, however, wanting to demonstrate the power of eBay's services, plan to auction off the company to the highest bidder using an eBay auction.

Yahoo, Microsoft, Transmeta, and AOL seem to be the most likely bidders. I can just imagine corporate executives from Microsoft hitting the reload button in their browser (IE, of course) every few seconds to see if a rival company has outbid them. "Dammit! Those yahoos over at Yahoo just outbid us! I'll fix that..." the Microsoft Vice President of Rival Acquisitions would yell as he trumps the Yahoo bid by a cool billion or so (mere pocket change to him).

The meta-eBay auction is an extreme example of virtual property, but it isn't a harbinger of a major revolution in the economy, nor is it a paradigm shift in the way business or life is conducted. It's not that big a deal. Going to the local Claw-Mart Superstore and buying a six-pack is not any different than buying the rights to a domain name or an Ultima Online character.

You just can't believe everything you read over at Slashdot.

Write me at jonsplatz [at] i-want-a-website [dot] com.

[Addendum: James Baughn asked me to mention that he is interested in selling two pieces of his own "virtual property". He said that he might be willing to sell his i-want-a-website.com domain and his vintage #285 Slashdot account if somebody would present him with a dollar amount that, as he said, "contained a whole bunch of zeros".]

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