What should we consider as a reasonable foundation for the value of information?


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From Rishab Aiyer Ghosh:

    In brief, value lies in the willingness of people to consume a good, and this potentially exists in anything that people can produce and pass on.

    From "Economics of Gossip" [1]:
     

      We are not on the Net just to read books, but to participate in discussions, to meet people and share ideas. So our criteria for what is valuable was and is quite different from those of a publisher of printed books.

      In fact, these criteria do not really matter - nor does the fact that we find value in small posts by newsgroup participants. What is important is the fact that the post - any post, even "junk" and the rudest of "flames" - is a product. It has been created by somebody, is being distributed, and can be consumed - and possibly valued - by others. In the "real world", we find value in rubble from a wall that happened to divide a big city for 28 years; a rock that might or might not have come from another planet - these things are rightly included in our catalogues of economic goods. It doesn't matter who finds them useful - or even whether anyone does. The ability of anything to be produced, traded and consumed is enough.

      Clearly, no subjective line should be drawn separating economic from uneconomic things on the Net. And in a knowledge economy, it is reasonable to treat all forms of knowledge - with the broadest possible definition - as economic goods. It is certainly true that the least relevant of newsgroup posts is produced, distributed, and consumed - so they too did, for me, qualify.

      Come to think of it, the world would be very different without things normally thought as not part of the economy. Although you don't stop to write out a cheque - or even think of it - every time you hear some industry gossip, or get advice from a senior colleague, such things do have an economic impact, without involving explicit economic transactions. The importance appears diminished in the "real world" environment - in this example the office where everyone's pay and job description includes the implicit tag of "intra-office industry gossip distributor" or "junior colleague advisor". But on the Net these implicit transactions stand out in stark relief, suggesting even more strongly that in a knowledge economy, every exchange of knowledge in any form is an act of trade.

      Every snippet posted to a discussion group, every little Web page, every skim through a FAQ list and every snoop into an on-line chat session is an act of production or consumption, often both. There is no specific economic inherent value in a product. Value lies in the willingness of people to consume a good, and this potentially exists in anything that people can produce and pass on.

1 Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, 1996, "Economics of gossip", published as part of "Cooking pot markets: an economic model for the trade in free goods and services on the Internet", First Monday, March 1998, http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue3_3/ghosh/

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