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They’re beautiful…but are they useful? And why am I even asking that question?

In some ways, the first Jackson Fish Market experience seems almost endearingly old school.  It’s “viral” (you send someone flowers – they visit your site and send some to someone else), “sticky” (if you don’t come back and water your flowers, they wither and die) and entirely about brand promotion (whether of Jackson Fish Market or the minimally branded Vosges Hot Chocolate is open to debate).  Of course, you can embed the flowers as a widget in your blog or website but…

On the other hand, the flowers are awfully pretty and the execution is flawlessly light of touch.   Perhaps that’s where They’re Beautiful (and Jackson Fish Market) part company with the old school – they collect just enough data to make it work and they’re tapping into a very contemporary meme – virtual gifts.  And the idea that these virtual objects will simply wilt away and die is quite a poignant comment on the ephemeral nature of the Web – live, 2.0, semantic or otherwise. Or am I reading too much into a bunch of flowers?  (mind you, I read too much into most things).  Tim O’Reilly is skeptical – but hey, they got O’Reilly writing about them.  Robert Scoble (inevitably) knows the three designers behind Fish Market and (after a little ritual MS bashing) comments that virtual goods are the “Next Big Thing” in Silicon Valley.

Who knows?  I don’t know about the extent to which Facebook’s gifts are embedded in Facebook culture but they certainly aren’t beautiful – more like the cartoon abstraction of gift-giving where the idea of a limited edition of 10,000,000 becomes a bizarre parody of generosity.  In some ways, They’re Beautiful is a step forward from this to a mode of gift giving where the lack of value precludes all selfishness on the part of the giver…

But, as I said, I read to much into things.  The flowers  look nice and the water won’t ever start to smell (until they finally sort out that olfactory Firefox plug-in, anyway).

P.S. And then there are those trying to revive the late nineties notion of buying real goods in a virtual en