The real world is about to get a taste of the meme magic that made Zynga famous. Wimpole Home Farm in Cambridgeshire in the UK is being controlled by the internet. This month the National Trust, which owns the farm, began an experiment: if people could vote on how a farm were run, could it succeed? And could it get people interested in farming? For £30 (~$50) per year anyone, anywhere in the world, can buy a share in the decision making of Wimpole Farm. Which crops to plant, which livestock to breed, which ecological concerns to focus on – everything is up for a vote. Watch the introductory videos to the project below. This MyFarm Project hopes to attract 10,000 voting members. Will these internet denizens ruin the 1200 acre farm, or innovate it? Either way it’s an amazing example of how the physical and digital worlds are overlapping.
Farming is the single largest use of land in the UK – about 77% of its territories. The National Trust, in turn, is the single largest agrarian land owner, in charges of some 200,000 hectares. The MyFarm Project is the Trust’s way of getting British citizens, and people in industrialized countries all over the globe, interested in farming again. Capitalizing on the success of Facebook games like FarmVille, MyFarm could be a natural way of leveraging internet enthusiasm towards the Trust’s goals. In fact, now is a very opportune time to get started – Zynga released an ‘English Countryside‘ version of FarmVille in March. Here’s the appeal for online visitors to join MyFarm from the Wimpole manager, “Farmer Morris”:
Would you pay $50 to get a vote on how a real world farm is run? I find the idea pretty appealing. Besides the 12 big decisions you get to help make each year (about one a month) you’ll be able to shape Wimpole policy by participating in their online forums. You also get access to webcams, farm statistics, videos – the whole online enchilada. You’ll also get a free visit to Wimpole so you can see the effect of your decisions first hand – though you’ll have to provide your own transportation. While MyFarm seems aimed towards families and environmentally minded people, I’m sure there are plenty of curiosity seekers and FarmVille enthusiasts who will find the concept entertaining enough to join the fray. In fact, here’s a video specifically aimed at getting the FarmVille crowd’s attention turned towards the MyFarm Project:
If this were just another crowd-sourced financing project, I probably wouldn’t have given it a second glance. We’ve been selling shares of art, land, and everything else on eBay for years. The National Trust, however, is clearly riffing off of the idea of bringing video games like FarmVille to life. It’s a little insane to think of creating a physical version of FarmVille (or Farm Town if you dislike Zynga). The parallels aren’t aboslute (we’re not harvesting strawberry pigs or arranging crops to look like NES games) but internet users managing a real farm in between visits to Facebook and World of Warcraft is a little surreal. Especially when you consider that the choices these people make won’t just effect the Wimpole farm, but the ecology of the land as well.
Seeing as things are just getting started at Wimpole Home Farm, it’s much too early to know if things will be a colossal fail or an epic win. The National Trust is aiming for 10,000 voting subscribers to the MyFarm Project but is giving itself three months to ramp up to that goal. If they can’t gather at least 6500 members, they’ll have to tank the idea. Even if they do get enough people on board, there’s no guarantee that they won’t make Farmer Morris’ life a living hell. Crowd-sourcing is a powerful tool, but its results are…chaotic…to say the least. Sometimes you get the answer to difficult scientific questions, sometimes you get a whale named Mr. Splashy Pants.
If MyFarm is a success, however, I can’t wait to see who tries to translate another internet meme into offline gold. Is the FBI going to use online voting to fight organized crime as a tribute to Mafia Wars? Will universities start organizing incoming freshman into Alliance and Horde? Are we going to Rick Roll people in real life? This could go to some crazy places. Yet, while it seems absurd, there is something really appealing about seeing our digital choices have effects in the physical world. The merger between the two is coming. I can only hope it changes things for the better.
[screen capture credit: National Trust Charity]
[source: MyFarm Project]