The Sportsification of the Internet

When I was a kid, long before they were almost good, I was an Atlanta Braves fan. I remember watching Hank Aaron, Dusty Baker and Ralph Garr in the outfield. I remember Jerry Royster, Biff Pocoroba and Phil Niekro. I followed their batting averages and ERAs by reading the newspaper and listening to the radio, often with an earpiece after I was supposed to be asleep. After TBS launched in 1976, I watched a lot of games on TV.

Baseball is a great game, because it is all about the stats. I kept a little handmade chart with my favorite players’ names, positions and stats. Throughout my youth I knew the stats for a lot of players.

It never even crossed my mind how much they got paid.

Now, everything about professional sports is all about the money. Every time a professional athlete is mentioned, his salary follows like a Sr. or Jr. Cal Ripkin, Jr. has turned into Chipper Jones, $13M.

It’s not just baseball. The important golf stats used to be stroke average and tournaments won. Now all they show in the papers is how many millions the player has earned this year. Tennis is the same way. The NFL is just as bad. Don’t even get me started on the NBA.

The evolution of professional sports from pastime and passion to business and bling bling turned many ardent fans into bored cynics.

theocho-758706Now the same thing is happening to the internet. Go visit any of the popular sites that track and comment on the internet and internet related applications. While lip service is, for the moment, still given to how cool or useful an application or service is, the focus is clearly and quickly shifting to how much money someone has, will or might make off of that application or service.

Read TechCrunch for a week and you will see this trend. Look at how many of the posts on Techmeme (nee Memeorandum) have to do with money or the prospects thereof. In this age where every application developer and his dog are trying to live off of ad revenue and every consumer and his dog are buying TIVOs and XM radios primarily to avoid ads, more and more people and trying to stuff more and more advertising into their applications and content streams.

The mindset that made geekdom cool is dying in favor of the talk that made Wall Street insiders rich. It’s almost like the “if you build something cool, it will sell itself” approach has been forgotten and people are trying to reverse engineer from the other end of the rainbow- the much coveted IPO or sale to Yahoo.

Don’t get me wrong, money is good. Our economic system is based on people making money. Like everyone else with a real job, I spend a lot of my time trying to make money.

But every single thing in our lives shouldn’t be about money. Those parts of our lives that don’t involve money are shrinking rapidly.

We need to protect those parts of our lives the way we protect other things that are valuable to us. For two reasons. One, it’s important for our spiritual and physical well being and it helps give our kids a balanced view of the world. Two, for those less idealistic, reverse engineering a made fortune is no substitute for good business.

The only true roadmap to wealth is to do something really well. Build something people want or need. Provide a service that people will pay for. Shortcuts generally either implode on their own or end up as part of some greater fool exit strategy.

I hope we can stop all the madness before new social networking applications start showing up on The Ocho.