I’m going to try to write some posts about public goods as part of writing something about the new age of public goods. As readers to this blog will know, I’ve got a bit of a thing about public goods, and most recently argued that Web 2.0 is the product of ‘emergent public goods‘.
But for now a taster. It’s funny when you investigate something and find something that really is very simple and basic and yet hasn’t been said before – or you haven’t seen it said before (but part of the point of this is that you can point out if it has been said before).
The textbook definition of a public good is that it’s something that’s both non-rival in consumption and non-excludable. And that textbook definition is wrong! It’s the definition of a (particular) public good problem. To be a public good the good need simply be non-rival in consumption and whether or not it’s excludable it needs to be not excluded. So Google, G-mail, Twitter and Facebook are perfectly excludable – in each case the platform providers could exclude those who won’t pay them a subscription. But in not doing so they choose to make these platforms public goods – and so maximise their social value. It just so happens that they also make the judgement that their private value to them is maximised by maximising their social value – a nice confluence of interests. But Google, G-mail, Twitter and Facebook are, I would argue, public goods notwithstanding their in principle excludability.
Anyway, I hope to return to this in some subsequent posts – in between watching the Pakistanis and the Australians battling it out on the field.