Sunday, November 18, 2012

The bubble is back!

I guess I had somewhat foolishly thought that the crazed gold-rush days of the early Internet were behind us, and people were no longer acting quite so desparately.

But I guess I was wrong; things seem to be just as crazy as ever, if not more so.

  • The New York Times has been running a series called "The iEconomy"; the most recent article in the series is As Boom Lures App Creators, Tough Part Is Making a Living. The article describes, in detail, two different experiences of those who write apps for the iPhone: one made a million dollars, while the others were not so fortunate:
    They sold one of their cars, gave some possessions to relatives and sold others in a yard sale, rented out their six-bedroom house and stayed with family for a while.
    This for a job which is
    freelance work that came with nothing in the way of a regular income, health insurance or retirement plan.
    After nearly two years, the result is that their
    quest cost them more than $200,000 in lost income and savings. So far this year, their eight apps have earned $4,964.
    As the Times observes, this is a common outcome, though the lure of the mother-lode is strong.
    Streaming Color Studios, a game developer, did a survey of game makers late last year. The 252 respondents, while not a scientifically valid sample and restricted to one segment of the app market, indicated what many people had suspected: the app world is an ecology weighted heavily toward a few winners.

    A quarter of the respondents said they had made less than $200 in lifetime revenue from Apple. A quarter had made more than $30,000, and 4 percent had made over $1 million.

    A few apps have made it extremely big, including Instagram, the photo-sharing app that was bought by Facebook in April for $1 billion. When app developers dream, they dream of triumphs like that.

  • And iPhone app development isn't the only part of the Internet attracting desparate souls. The online magazine The Verge reports on the strange world of Bitcoin mining:
    O’Shea has 24 computers running constantly in a shed behind his house, making Bitcoins. "My setup is kind of... ghetto. I have bugs crawling around on my rigs and there’s dust and pollen and cigar smoke," he told The Verge recently by phone. "I'm out here now, I don’t know if you can hear them in the background. Can you hear the hum?"
    Again, the odds seem wildly stacked against striking it rich:
    O’Shea’s backyard operation brings in about $3,000 a month, he estimates, although the take is always changing because the price of Bitcoin is extremely volatile. He’s spent more than $60,000 on equipment, and his electricity costs run between $2,200 and $2,400 a month. He’s defrayed his cost significantly but has yet to break even.

I suppose it's somewhat in the nature of computers that people will charge off on unlikely quests such as these, and the computer industry is full of people who are working on their next great side project. After all, with computers, it seems almost as though you can't possibly fail

We didn’t need offices or fax machines or secretaries to get going. We could rent all our computing needs for next to nothing until customers with cash in hand started using our services and taxing our servers. This meant basically “no money down!” and no need to go hat in hand begging banks or venture capitalists for money.

There's nothing wrong with trying, and I wish all these folks well. I must say, though, this guy's approach seems much more sensible, and much more realistic, to me.

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