They're Beautiful: virtual flowers from Jackson Fish Market

Jackson Fish Market, which I’ve mentioned on Radar before, has just launched They’re Beautiful, a virtual flower delivery service where the flowers slowly die if you don’t water them. Here’s their write-up about the new project.

I’ve thought that virtual, degrading objects are interesting for a while now. While I was working on, it was always frustrating to me that the communal experience of seeing Star Wars in a movie theater was so absent from the web site. I wrote an article at the time called “A well-worn staircase” about how the virtual world was missing some of the signals the real world gives us about how many people have been somewhere or used something before us: stairs that have been worn down by years of use, books with dog-eared pages and coffee stains, that sort of thing. The only way a newcomer to the Star Wars site would know someone else had been there was if the site was slow.

My friend Ben Olander later used a similar idea on the Pleasantville movie site — like the movie, the Pleasantville site switched from black and white to color images the more you used it.

I never launched any of the ideas we had for degrading virtual goods on because our ideas felt contrived to me — forced degradation, like asking the janitor to run sandpaper over the stairs each night. That said, Facebook’s “limited” gifts (some of which are limited to run of 10,000,000), for instance, seem to show that with the right social setup, people will respond to programmed limitations.

Jackson Fish’s setup seems like it could work — you can send flowers to anyone, and embed flowers you’ve received in a blog or other site. If you do embed them, you probably won’t let them die — a clear indicator that you’re not tending to your blog! Maybe embedding would work as the online version of “Let me put those in some water…” I’m skeptical, but I’m interested to see if that works.

I love that Jackson Fish’s home page banner is filling in with the “shops” they’re building — a neighborhood block with a fish monger and now, a flower market. Makes me want to visit. Congrats to Hillel and crew, and give us some sign of the people buying flowers from your shop!