The 5 dimensions of online gifts

Jun 13, 2007

Different 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 gifts online is key to understanding the successes and failures of these 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.

"Different social media, such as wikis, MySpace, Flickr, and various forums have different ways for people to give and receive gifts," Skågeby says, "To fully understand online gifting we need to consider the question "who gives what to whom, how and why""

Gift giving and receiving is a collaborative activity that pulls together social groups. However, little research has been done outside niche anthropological studies and the studies of "gifts" given or exchanged by animals in feeding and mating rituals. Skågeby says that gifts provide one type of social membrane so understanding what makes a strong membrane and what might cause it to rip are crucial to studies of online life.

There are five dimensions to gift giving among users of online communities, Skågeby explains. These are "initiative" in which an individual decides spontaneously to give a gift to another member of the community. This can be active with one person giving a piece of advice or a useful link in an online forum or passive where community members download something from a specific user automatically through a peer to peer network. In this case, the gift giver plays no role other than making the digital goods available online.

The second dimension is "direction" and tracks the path of a gift. For example, a public gift might come from an individual or organisation, a musician say, who loads their mp3 files on to their MySpace page, or a photographer who shares her photos using Flickr.com. Direction can also apply to gifts given to small communities or groups or given among online friends. An entirely private gift would be a single individual giving a gift to another or a very select group of friends.

The peer to peer networks, including the BitTorrent approach exploit another dimension of gift giving, the "incentive". Incentives can be enforced or voluntary. In the case of BitTorrent file sharing, users can only download a given gift, or file, if they simultaneously share that file as it downloads with other users, so the incentive process is often bidirectional.

Incentive gifting is exploited in illicitly distributing copyright materials such as movies and music, but also has a legitimate use in distributing large files within businesses and other communities. Voluntary incentive involves a points system so that users who share most, gain kudos or better access to additional gifts.

The final two dimensions of gift giving online are "identification", knowing who is giving or receiving a gift, or remaining anonymous. In some systems, such as BitTorrent, gifting is essentially anonymous, while users are known on MySpace when they share digital gifts. Another dimension is "limitation", which controls the level of access to gifts, either giving or receiving can be open to all or restrictive. An open gift system might be the free software available for anyone to download on the free software network sourceforge.net, whereas a private BitTorrent or other network would be considered a restrictive gift network.

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."

Source: Inderscience Publishers

Explore further: Belarus tightens control over online media

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Ag-tech could change how the world eats

1 hour ago

Investors and entrepreneurs behind some of the world's newest industries have started to put their money and tech talents into farming - the world's oldest industry - with an audacious agenda: to make sure there is enough ...

World's rarest cetacean threatened by illegal gillnets

1 hour ago

The world's rarest cetacean could disappear in less than four years unless immediate action is taken by the Mexican government to protect it from entanglement in gillnets deployed illegally in its Gulf of California refuge, ...

Enviro-tracker is wearable for citizen monitoring

3 hours ago

Mobile hardware and software allow us to count our steps, and to count our calories, but a Vancouver, Canada, startup group asked, what about tracking our environment? TZOA was founded in 2013. Laura Moe, ...

In Curiosity Hacked, children learn to make, not buy

3 hours ago

With her right hand, my 8-year-old daughter, Kalian, presses the red-hot soldering iron against the circuit board. With her left hand, she guides a thin, tin wire until it's pressing against both the circuit board and the ...

Recommended for you

Spain: Google News vanishes amid 'Google Tax' spat

Dec 16, 2014

Google on Tuesday followed through with a pledge to shut down Google News in Spain in reaction to a Spanish law requiring news publishers to receive payment for content even if they are willing to give it away.

Brazil: Google fined in Petrobras probe

Dec 15, 2014

A Brazilian court says it has fined Google around $200,000 for refusing to intercept emails needed in a corruption investigation at state-run oil company Petrobras.

Microsoft builds support over Ireland email case

Dec 15, 2014

Microsoft said Monday it had secured broad support from a coalition of influential technology and media firms as it seeks to challenge a US ruling ordering it to hand over emails stored on a server in Ireland.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.