Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Gift economies and virtual worlds

First Monday is a great online journal. This month it has two articles of interest (to me):

The first is on alternatives to private philanthropy as a means of support. Examples given include public libraries, the free open source software movement.

The second is on the gift economy as it plays out in livejournal communities.

This is particularly notable given my post on using virtual worlds for "experiments" in philanthropic behavior. (There is yet another article in this issue of First Monday about learning in virtual worlds). The gift economy, as compared to a market economy, is one in which giving (time, resources, skills) is the most valued behavior. On the plane today I listened to Jay Rosen, founder of, talk about the gift economy as it relates to journalism. You can find the podcast at MediaBerkman.

Perhaps we might begin to see a blending of gift and market economies. And not just virtually, but in real life. In which case we can ask a whole set of new and interesting questions - such as "what is the role of philanthropy in a gift economy?"

Maybe this is what happens when venture capitalists back startups focused on "large-scale political and social activism on the Internet, allowing anyone with passion and initiative to make a difference." It need not be just the commercialization of charity, but perhaps a bit of the gifting mentality will shift into markets?

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