On E-commerce, bacteria, viruses and memes…

01/30/2001

Imagine, if you will, a healthy body. Now introduce two types of foreign elements – lets say bacteria and viruses. I’m now going to bastardise their life-cycles horribly. Bear with me.

Viruses need to spread to other bodies before either the immune response of the body finds and kills them, or before they kill the body and are trapped within it – but whatever their evolutionary strategy, they cause damage to the organism concerned. Bacteria on the other hand are more varied beasts. Some bacteria are horribly damaging and can kill creatures, while others have formed symbiotic relationships with their hosts, and can fulfill such functions as aiding digestion. The latter form of bacteria may have an evolutionary advantage over the former, as will the organism that they inhabit.

Now imagine that we are not talking about organisms and their genomes, but instead ideas – memes. Let’s pretend that the body is a huge and highly fertile environment for memes – the internet. And now let’s consider analogies between e-commerce ventures (dot.coms) and the two bastardised life-cycles I have described previously.

The internet was essentially an environment free from commercial ventures until six or seven years ago, but when the memes were introduced, they flourished immediately. The question for many people was what would these memes do to their host? Would they act in a viral fashion – spreading themselves and gradually damaging it, or destroying it (leaving no room for other memes and leaving an interesting discussion about whether the memes would survive a leap into a still other form of quasi-organism), or would they become the grist that aided the internet’s development – gave it an advantage to flourish and develop.

Interestingly enough, for the last couple of years, no one really discussed the possibility that they might simply lose the evolutionary struggle under pressure from hundreds of thousands of millions of other memes born directly from the internet itself:

The Museum of E-Failure
“We call this digital compast heap “The E-Failure Museum” – a multi-megabyte collection of screen capture files documenting the home pages of 120 commercial Web sites that didn’t make it.”