Saturday, October 08, 2011

The real „FarmVille“

One British farm has done  quite an unusual move: it decided to be owned by 10.000 internet users, who will, just like in a popular on-line game on Facebook, FarmVille, make all the important decisions. 

From May 2011, a large farm near Cambridgeshire in England is in ownership of internet users across the globe, who will vote for every decision, even the smallest one, regarding cows, pigs, sheep and mowing – just like in a mega-popular on-line game on Facebook – FarmVille.

The experiment called "MyFarm" is located on 2,500 acres of Wimpole Estate near Cambridgeshire. Up to 10.000 internet farmers will jointly make decisions which bulls to buy, crop to plant and how often the soil will be irrigated. All they have to do is to pay a one-time fee of £30, and that fee includes even the option to come and visit the farm for themselves. 

I will put in here whatever the online farmers want to grow”, says Richard Morris, Wimpole's manager.Farming is always a compromise. There is never a right or a wrong answer. If I choose one thing, my neighbor will be leaning over the fence shaking his head. The online farmers will not be able to choose to grow cannabis or bananas, but undoubtedly there will be some strange decisions, some decisions I would not have made.”

Fiona Reynolds, Director-General of The National Trust, who owns the Wimpole Estate, believes that this whole idea will also have an educational significance. “This is all about reconnecting people to where their food comes from. Our TNS poll showed that only 8% of mothers feel confident talking to their children about where their food comes from. That's really poignant.

Project’s manager, John Alexander, agrees that FarmVille, a virtual game that, with each month, at least for a few hours, entertains almost 50 million players, was a big inspiration for this venture. “But this is a real farm”, says Alexander, who came up with this idea while working for an advertising agency.

On-line farmers will manage the estate through discussions that will always end with a voting. The winning option will be the one with the most votes. One of the first decisions was, what to grow in the Pond Field. This field covers 21 hectares. Participants, or “bosses”, will receive all necessary information through blogs and video clips. That will be of great importance before any decision because, all major decisions, and even the not-so-important ones, will be delegated to the users of “MyFarm”. In this way, the on-line farmers will not only decide whether to grow a fruit or wheat somewhere, but also and  what kind of wheat. 

I am making decisions every day”, Richard Morris said. "The first thing I do after getting up is look at the weather out of the window, and that sets the day going”.

Currently, on the Wimpole Estate, there are about 300 lambs. The unusually dry weather for Britain this year has left many fields without enough grass. Because of that, the heard is mostly spending time in the barn. 

Morris also has an idea to develop an application for smartphones, which will allow him to receive instant advices from on-line farmers at any time of day and night.  “For example, if I have wheat in the field, ripe and ready, but rain in the morning means it is damp, do we risk waiting and losing some of the crop, or combining [harvesting] it now and incurring some extra drying costs?”.

Of course, not everyone accepted this idea with equal enthusiasm. And among them are not just farmers. Nicholas Lovell, one of the most famous journalists who write about computer games, says he is not convinced in success of this idea. “There is something in the idea that people like to grow, nurture and beautify things. But Farmville's success is down to the craftsmanship of hooking into basic human psychology: the need to finish things we've started, to return gifts when we're given them and many, many more. A Farmville for which people had to pay £30 to access would have flopped miserably.

The thing that can comfort Richard Morris is the fact that the Wimpole Estate is located in a rural area, where the signal for mobile phones is rather bad. "I know where I am heading, if things get tough”, Morris was joking.

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