gift economies & librivox

by Hugh

Austin, a founder of the top-secret start-up Akoha.org, has a post about gift economies, which I commented on. He got me thinking and, I left a long rambly comment, which I’d like to expand on… soon ;-) … anyway, here is my comment:

one crucial point about online gift economies (and perhaps other gift economies too): the reciprocation is rarely one-to-one. this i think is why we are able to be accomplish so much in online free projects. you give your bit to a sense of collective benefit, in part in the expectation that others (but certainly not everyone) will do the same, making the whole project better.

so for wikipedia, people contribute without any expectation that any particular reader will contribute back. i don’t know what the editor/reader ratios are (for wikitravel it’s 1:50, i imagine much bigger for wikipedia). still, in a sense I receive from wikipedia, gain benefit, recognize that benefit, and *maybe* I contribute back, to wikipedia…but i don’t expect everyone to do that.

this is certainly the case for LibriVox, where there is no expectation that any particular listener will record. however that is really the key to our success: any listener *can* record, and we actively hope that they do…not because we want our efforts reciprocated, but more importantly because every new contributor/book adds to our collective achievement, each new recording reflects well on all our other efforts.

“i have listened, i have appreciated your effort, and i have appreciated so much, that i am willing to put the effort into recording as well.”

and all of us get the joy of participating in a project that is getting bigger, and better …something that reflects back on each of us as volunteers.

hmm. so for librivox, every new volunteer/recording is an explicit “validation” (not sure what that meaningless word means…) of what we are doing. not payment as such, but that the effort all of us have put in is reciprocated by efforts that others are willing to make, we can measure in some concrete way the “value” of the effort that has been made to date. that is, it is “worth” the effort that will be made in the future. interesting… which again is why we spend so much time defending/protecting the readers, and little time worrying about what the listener has to say. because for us the true measure of value associated with librivox is not at all how many people listen, but how many people record.

and that is the difference between us and a commercial company. our value is defined by participation; while a commercial approach measures value by use.

sorry, this is a ramble, just thinking thru these ideas as i write…. i’ll have to write this up in some more detail.