Five Dimensional Online Gifts

Online communitiesDifferent social media, such as wikis, MySpace, Flickr, and various forums have different ways for people to give and receive gifts, according to Swedish scientists.

To fully understand online gifting and the successes and failures of online communities, we need to consider the question “who gives what to whom, how and why?”

Every day, more and more people join online communities, such as MySpace, FaceBook, and Second Life, and use file sharing systems like BitTorrent. In these virtual spaces they can reinvent themselves, make new friends, and share information and resources with others. Understanding how people give and receive digital items, “gifts”, online is key to understanding the successes and failures of countless online communities.

Now, computer scientist Jörgen Skågeby of Linköping University in Sweden writing in the International Journal of Web Based Communities, explains how there are five dimensions to the way people give and receive gifts online, whether those gifts are information, mp3 files, photos, or illicit file shares.

  • Initiative – spontaneous giving and sharing, e.g. and
  • Direction – the path the gift follows
  • Incentive – exploited in point-scoring systems such as BitTorrent networks
  • Identification – anonymous or recognised
  • Limitation – access control

Gifting is a central human activity in many communities, both offline and online, explains Skågeby, “As more and more of human social activities will be copied or migrate entirely to online, we need to consider what dimensions are central to these activities, so that we can analyse their long-term impact on individuals and society.”

Skågeby’s work is reported in Int. J. Web Based Communities, 2007, 3, 55.

4 thoughts on “Five Dimensional Online Gifts”

  1. I have obviously been spending too much time on Facebook. I thought you were talking about those little gifts members can give to each other for $1 a pop. D’oh.

  2. Hank Campbell on ScientificBlogging followed up my original write-up on this research.

  3. Yes, I guess the word “gift” has the wrong connotations in everyday speech to truly be pertinent here, maybe it’s more precise in sociological circles. I shall check.

  4. When I first read the word ‘gift,’ I have to admit that it threw me off a little. I think this is because for me, the online sharing of information just doesn’t seem like a gift in the usual sense of the word. Is that a commentary about the online world being so far from reality for me that a gift can’t be something slightly more intangible like an mp3 (which I do adore, being such a music geek..hehe)? Or maybe I take this sharing for granted? I’m perhaps straying a little but your post has me thinking about the ways people connect online and how this contrasts to in-person ‘gifts’ and connections.

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