On Alexander Dolgin’s “Manifesto of the New Economy”

Before saying anything about Dolgin’s arguments, I want to share the results of a basic Google search on the book:

  • Dolgin has his own web page and the book(s) can be downloaded for free, this has been done about 40 thousand times so far.
  • There is a rather poor “Discussion” part on the page; poor as in the number and quality of comments (on both English and Russian versions)
  • The book is on sale on Amazon (for some reason) and is priced $159.49 — so far nobody has neither bought or reviewed the book.
  • There are two ratings for the book on Goodreads, a 4/5 and a 2/5.

I am not sure what happens on Russian websites but this book does not seem to be very successful on Web 2.0 — which, I think, is ironic. According to Google Scholar, its citations are not that great, either. This made me question his “symbolic capital,” in his terms.

I agree with Dolgin on the importance and possible (and current) utilisations of collaborative filtering and give credit to the effort put on the systematization of symbolic value-capital-exchange. But I have some issues about the presuppositions and his approach in general:

  1. Who is this book talking about? Dolgin borrows the dynamics of “clubs” and their approach to commodities and extrapolates these to the whole Web community; he talks about fashion and haute couture and the importance people give to brands. There has to be a definition of the class of the consumer society he is talking about. Let’s assume the “economy of clubs” is actually the case: what are the examples? One can claim this kind of behaviour for a yacht club, but, the members of, for instance, an open-source software community have many political and practical reasons for engaging in club behaviour. It is not just selecting the best product, it is doing so because the quality/price of the product and its production process are vital in a sense to the members of that community.
  2. I think that clubs are mostly niche areas; you cannot basically be a member of a club for everything you do. You can elaborate very deeply on the electronic appliances you will buy and be a respected member of a forum about it, but simply do not care about the brand of the shirt you wear. It is simply ridiculous to waste so much “personal time” on something I do not care about. And offering micro-payment for such reviews is not a good idea either; once again, nobody would bother unless it was too easy or one makes a living out of such comment-generation.
  3. Using social exclusion / reputation as a motivation for generating quality reviews? Seriously? I think this is over-ambitious and arrogant, if not plain insane. Obviously, Mr. Dolgin is not very familiar with the great act of trolling, and the reputation that brings. Let’s say I give insincere ratings on Booking.com to the hotels I have stayed, and I earn the title of “abusive/troll commenter”, so what? Will the booking.com community ostracize me? If yes, once again, so what?
  4. Post-factum payments: These are increasingly becoming the economic model for some areas, but these areas are generally those with a low production cost. You can invest time in a book and collect the earnings later, but you have to pay for a sound board or a mixer or whatnot if you want to record and produce music. Radiohead was able to pull this off because they already had the capital means at the beginning. There are areas on the digital goods era in which you need some capital before production.
  5. Dolgin says “this business model may suggest an analogy with sandwich board men pacing the streets,” but “everybody is advertising the goods they use in public, and advertising themselves through the goods they wear. Everybody is their own sandwich.” — This must be one of the most absurd theories I have heard. This may be what an economist / a marketing specialist sees, but turning people into sandwiches in the eyes of their fellow community members would be disastrous. I for one simply lose interest in the people who keep pushing their choices on social networks.
  6. The “symbolic capital” conceptualization is pure capitalism (he does not claim otherwise) — but the interest in the “lifestyles of the rich and famous” had a major hit when the Internet enabled people to find fellow human beings who were not rich and famous, and create sub-cultures regardless of geography. Basing an economy on symbolic capital is simply trying to turn this around to the way it has been.

In conclusion, the book offers a good understanding on how the online ratings and reviews can be turned into data, but it ignores that the Internet is a medium of sub-culture as well. Groups or clubs have their own dynamics and own ways of acquiring commodities, and these cannot be generalized, systematized and turned into “profit” this easily.

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