Online sharing changed it all
Although it is not always by generosity, the culture of sharing is at the base of the Internet and its new economy.
The digitalization of the products of the cultural industries (especially publishing, music and audiovisual) and the emergence of the network as transport infrastructure (superhighway), laid the foundations of a new information economy in which scarcity was replaced by the abundance and the marginal and transaction costs approach zero.
In this new scenario, sharing cultural goods stopped being a matter of lending objects to known and close people and it became a global practice that takes place between strangers.
Napster (1999) and Wikipedia (2001) are paradigmatic examples of the new way of sharing (music and knowledge) that, while giving power to ordinary people, is taken away from industries whose business model was based on the intermediation to distribute packaged products (discs and encyclopedias).
Weblogs spread this culture to news and opinion, and put the mass media in check, they did not believe blogs until Twitter and Facebook made them see that they had lost their monopoly on the production and distribution of news and opinions.
A digitally networked world is an ideal space for amateurism and generosity to flourish. Users discovered that, unlike what happens with physical goods, the more they shared, the more they benefited from what others shared.
I have learned that the more we share, the more we benefit from what others share.
— Jeff Jarvis, Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live
Reciprocity is one of the oldest values of the network, present since the first netiquette formulations. However, the motivations for sharing follow a broad path that goes from generosity to self-interest, going through attention and obtaining a reputation.
The incentives to share can range from reputation and attention to less measurable factors such as expression, fun, good karma, satisfaction, and simply self-interest (…).
— Chris Anderson, Free: The Future of a Radical Price
The great challenge, for all the affected industries, is not to try to protect against the inevitable, but to discover and exploit the new opportunities offered by a scenario that has already changed forever.
Contributing to the commons is not altruism; it’s often the best way to build vibrant business ecosystems that harness a shared foundation of technology and knowledge to accelerate growth and innovation.
— Don Tapscott y Anthony D. Williams, How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything
The same network that has the ability to crush inefficient intermediation also has the potential to illuminate new mediations (Airbnb, Dropbox, Instagram, Spotify, Tinder, Tumblr, Uber, WhatsApp, …).
Sharing is not necessarily synonymous with gratuity, users and platforms obtain value through multiple paths. By the way, my copy of Chris Anderson’s Free: The Future of a Radical Price cost me 18 dollars.