Sitting next to me on a cross- country flight was a representative of America’s youth. He was about seventeen, dressed in a complicated mix of black and silver (the metal, not the colour). He had a computer far cooler than mine. And when the chime indicated that “it is now safe to use approved electronic devices,” he pulled from the seat pocket in front of us a huge portfolio of DVDs.

All of them— there must have been two hundred at least— were copies. And as he paged through the binder, my envy grew. I wanted to know more about his collection and him. So I did something simply awful, something that I never do: I struck up a conversation with the person sitting next to me on an airplane.

I asked Josh (it turned out) about his collection. Was he a film studies student? Did he work in the industry? He wasn’t. And he didn’t. He was just a collector. Indeed, a collector of “everything,” he told me. This was just part of his collection. He had “gigs” of music as well.

The more we spoke, the more conflicted I became. I admired his knowledge. He knew his culture better than I knew mine. But he was, according to the laws of our country, a thief. Or something like that. In building his collection, he had violated a billion rights. Don’t start with me about how those rights are unjustly framed, or too expansive, or outdated. I know all that. I’ve killed forests explaining all that. All that aside, what this kid was doing was making my work harder. I fight for “free culture.” My position is weakened by kids who think all culture should be free.

When the frustration of the conflict became too much, I looked for an easy escape. Josh had a film I had always wanted to see. My book was finished. My e- mail was just annoying. I decided I’d ask to watch one of his DVDs.

“So,” I said, “could I rent one of those from you? How about $5?”

I’m not writer enough to describe the look of utter disappointment on his face. Suffice it to say that I had found the single most potent insult to hurl at Josh.

“What the fuck?” he spit back at me. “You think I do this for money? I’m happy to lend you one of these. But I don’t take money for this.”

I had crossed a line. But with that crossing, my respect for Josh grew. I didn’t agree with how he had acquired his collection. Yet his rebuke reminded me of a different economy within which culture also lives. There exists not just the commercial economy, which meters access on the simple metric of price, but also a sharing economy, where access to culture is regulated not by price, but by a complex set of social relations. These social relations are not simple. Indeed, these relations are insulted by the simplicity of price. And though I hope not many trade on capital acquired as Josh acquired his, everyone reading this book has a rich life of relations governed in a sharing economy, free of the simplicity of price and markets.

If the point isn’t completely obvious, consider some more examples:

• You have friends. That friendship lives within a certain economy. If you only ever ask and never give, the friendship goes away. If you meter each interaction and demand a settlement after each exchange, the friendship also goes away. Certain moves appropriate in some places are inappropriate here. For example: “I need to talk to someone. Can I give you $200 for an hour- long session?”

• You have, or have had, or will have, lovers. That relationship exists within a complex sharing economy. The statement “Wow, that was great. Here’s $500!” isn’t gratitude in such relationships. It might be perversion, though if not matched by perversion on the other side, it will likely be terminal to the relationship. Lovers make demands on each other. Those demands are designed to be complex. Simplify them according to price, and you destroy the relationship. (The other side to this story follows directly as well: Prostitution is sex within a commercial economy. Both sides seek the simplicity
of cash. Crossing that boundary is the stuff of novels or career- launching movies [Julia Roberts, Pretty Woman].)

• You have neighbours. They (or you) will sometimes need help. Once one asked me: “My car battery is dead. Can you give me a jump?” After we got his car started, he tried to hand me $5. “What the hell, Ted,” I said. “This is what neighbours do.” Then I thought, but didn’t say: Anyway, if you were going to pay me for this hassle, it’s going to be a lot more than $5.

As with any economy, the sharing economy is built upon exchange. And as with any exchange that survives over time, it must, on balance, benefit those who remain within that economy. When it doesn’t, people leave. Or at least they should (think about the battered spouse).

But of all the ways in which the exchange within a sharing economy can be defined—or put differently, of all the possible terms of the exchange within a sharing economy—the one way in which it cannot be defined is in terms of money. As Yochai Benkler puts it, in commercial economies “prices are the primary source of information about, and incentive for, resource allocation”; in sharing economies “ non- price- based social relations play those roles.”34

Indeed, not only is money not helpful, in many cases, adding money into the mix is downright destructive.35 This is not because people are against money (obviously). It is instead because, as philosopher Michael Walzer has described generally, people live within overlapping spheres of social understanding. What is obviously appropriate in some spheres is obviously inappropriate in others.36

Both academic literature and ordinary life are filled with a rich understanding of the differences between commercial and sharing economies. My favourite is Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, which describes in great historical detail the different but related understandings that cultures have had about giving. Think, for example, about the term “Indian giver,” which I always understood to be derogatory. It meant someone who gave something but expected to take it back. But the origin of the term invokes the idea of a sharing economy directly— not that you will take the same thing back, but that you understand you’re part of a practice of exchange that is meant, over time, to be fair: “In 1764, when Thomas Hutchinson wrote his history of the colony, the term was already an old saying: ‘An Indian gift,’ he told his readers, ‘is a proverbial expression signifying a present for which an equivalent return is expected.’ ” 37 So why then do people give such gifts, the man from Mars asks? Why do they risk the gift’s misfiring? Why not simply give cash, which is guaranteed to transfer efficiently?

The answer is because the gift is doing something more, or different, from simply transferring an asset to another. Again, as Hyde describes it:

It is the cardinal difference between gift and commodity exchange that a gift establishes a feeling- bond between two people, while the sale of a commodity leaves no necessary connection. I go into a hardware store, pay the man for a hacksaw blade and walk out. I may never see him again. The disconnectedness is, in fact, a virtue of the commodity mode. We don’t want to be bothered. If the clerk always wants to chat about the family, I’ll shop elsewhere. I just want a hacksaw blade.38

Gifts in particular, and the sharing economy in general, are thus devices for building connections with people. They establish relationships, and draw upon those relationships. They are the glue of community, essential to certain types of relationships, even if poison to others. It is not a gift relationship that defines your employment contract with a steel mill. Nor should it be. But it is a gift relationship, or sharing economy, that defines your life with your spouse or partner. And if it isn’t, it better become so if that relationship is to last.

Sometimes organizations trade upon this kind of economy in order to trade upon the kind of connections a sharing economy produces. Hyde points to the extraordinarily successful example of Alcoholics Anonymous:

AA is an unusual organization in terms of the way money is handled. Nothing is bought or sold. Local groups are autonomous and meet their minimal expenses—coffee, literature—through members’ contributions. The program itself is free. AA probably wouldn’t be as effective, in fact, if the program was delivered through the machinery of the market, not because its lessons would have to change, but because the spirit behind them would be different (the voluntary aspect of getting sober would be obscured, there would be more opportunity for manipulation, and—as I shall argue presently—the charging of fees for service tends to cut off the motivating force of gratitude, a source of AA’s energy).39

Likewise, communities that were defined as sharing economies radically change when money is brought into the mix. Hyde quotes MIT geneticist Jonathan Kind:

In the past one of the strengths of American bio-medical science was the free exchange of materials, strains of organisms and information. But now, if you sanction and institutionalize private gain and patenting of micro-organisms, then you don’t send out your strains because you don’t want them in the public sector. That’s already happening now. People are no longer sharing their strains of bacteria and their results as freely as they did in the past.40

In all these cases, price is poisonous. Money changes a relationship—it redefines it. Indeed, it would most likely insult the host. “Money-oriented motivations are different from socially-oriented motivations.”41 And crossing the line will either show a profound misunderstanding of the context, or suggest you did understand the context, but simply wanted to change it.

These lines of understanding, of course, are not drawn by God. They are culturally and historically contingent. In Victorian England, for example, “the presence of money in sport or entertainment” reduced the value of that sport or entertainment, at least for “members of the middle and upper classes.”42 Obviously, Americans feel differently today. In nineteenth- century America, the idea that you would tell your personal problems to a paid professional would seem outrageous. Today, it is called therapy—and the phrase “hey, save that one for the couch” signals an increasing appreciation that some personal matters are not to be within a sharing economy. Some personal matters should simply be

Thus, no distinction between “sharing” and “commercial” economies can be assumed to survive forever, or even for long. My only claim is that when such a distinction exists, then “adding money for an activity previously undertaken without price compensation reduces, rather than increases, the level of activity.”43 Often, not always. Conservatives in America insist upon keeping prostitution illegal because they fear that adding money to sexual exchange will increase the “activity previously undertaken without price compensation”—i.e., sexual activity outside a monogamous relationship. In that case, the fear is money increases the activity, not decreases it.

Commercial and sharing economies coexist. Indeed, they complement each other. Psychologists don’t begrudge friendship, even though the stronger the economies of friendship in a society, the weaker the demand for shrinks. The band Wilco doesn’t begrudge a church choir, even if the choir gives its work away for free, while Wilco charges plenty for one of their (too infrequent) concerts. We all understand that similar things can be offered within different economies. We celebrate this diversity. Only a fanatic would advocate wiping away one economy simply because of its effect on the other.

Yet sometimes we’re all fanatics. Puritan society has waged war against economies for sex that compete with sex within a monogamous relationship—believing both fornication (a competing sharing economy) and prostitution (a competing commercial economy) put too much pressure on an idealized sharing economy. Likewise, the content industry today wages war against economies for exchanging copyrighted content—peer-to-peer sharing economies, where people don’t necessarily know one another, as well as friendship sharing economies,44 where they do. In both cases, the judgment that the one economy is poison to the other may well be right. But whether right or not in a particular case, the key is that these fanatical cases are the exception. In the vast majority of cases, we permit this inter-economy competition to flourish. In many cases, we encourage it. No one is called a communist because he plays in a Thursday-evening softball league (competing with professional baseball) or helps clean up at a local church (competing with the janitor of the church). To the contrary: we idealize one who can trade within a range of societies, with a significant part of his or her life outside the society of commerce.

Now consider a distinction among the possible motivations that might explain participation within a sharing economy. Sometimes these motivations are “me-regarding”—the individual participates in the sharing economy because it benefits him. Sometimes these motivations are “thee-regarding”— the individual participates in the sharing economy because it benefits others. So if I join a local softball league, I may be driven largely by me-regarding motivations. If I volunteer at a local soup kitchen, I’m probably driven mostly by thee-regarding motivations.

Obviously, me and thee motivations are not unrelated. One can always view motivations that are thee-regarding as being ultimately me-regarding—I choose to help my neighbours because I want to be, or I want to be seen as, the sort of person who helps my neighbours. That’s a perfectly sensible way to understand the vast majority of thee-regarding motivations. My aim is not to insist that sharing economies are economies of selflessness.

Yet even if thee-regarding motivations are ultimately me-regarding, they are still, in one sense, more complicated to explain than the simple me-regarding motivations we all understand intuitively. We’re tolerant of weird me-regarding motivations (we call some “fetishes,” others simply “taste”). But weirdness about thee-regarding motivations makes us wonder whether the person even understands what he’s saying. For example, I understand the statement “I’m working to spread the goodness of the National Rifle Association.” I understand it even though I wouldn’t do the same. But the statement “I’m working to spread the goodness of Exxon” is not just unusual. For anyone not actually employed by Exxon, we’d wonder whether the person really understood what he was saying. Thee-regarding motivations plug into existing understandings of communities or causes. Me-regarding motivations (for us, in modern tolerant societies) aren’t so constrained.45

Using this distinction, then, I will call “thin sharing economies” those economies where the motivation is primarily me-regarding; “thick sharing economies” are economies where the motivations are at least ambiguous between me and thee motivation. Thus, in thin sharing economies, people do not base an exchange on price or money. But they’re making this exchange simply because it makes them better off, or because it is an unavoidable by-product of something they otherwise want to do for purely me-regarding reasons. One person doesn’t necessarily mind that his actions might be helping someone else. But there’s no independent desire to help someone else. The motivation is about me.

Three examples will illustrate what I mean:

• Think about a stock market. In most major stock markets, people share information—ordinarily information about how much is bought at what price, but even if that were hidden, the market would share the information about how prices were changing. You could describe this sharing as constituting a sharing economy. But plainly, it’s a very weird sort of person who would buy and sell stocks simply to help the market collect information about prices. People buy and sell stocks to make money. A by- product of that behaviour is the information that gets shared with others. If this is a sharing economy, it is a thin sharing economy.

• Think of the “Voice Over IP” service called Skype. With Skype, you can make free Internet calls, and very cheap Internet- to- regular- phone calls (and vice versa). But Skype is designed to use, or “share,” the resources of the computers connected to this VOIP network. When you’re on the Skype phone, Skype is using your computer to make its network work better.46 This is like AT&T drawing electricity from your house when you use the telephone, as a way to keep its electricity costs down. I don’t mean to criticize Skype for this: it certainly helps make the service better. But when someone participates in this “sharing economy” of computer resources, what is the most salient motivation? Is it to advance the cause of Skype? Or is it simply a by- product of people’s desire for cheap calls? I suggest the latter, making this too a thin sharing economy.

• Think finally of AOL’s IM network. The value of that network increases for everyone. This is a consequence of network effects: the more who join, the more valuable the resource is for everyone. There are many contexts in which this network effect is true. Think, for example, about the English language. Every time someone in China struggles to learn English or a school in India continues to push English as a primary language, all of us English speakers benefit. But in neither of these cases—with AOL or English—are people joining the movement because it is a movement. People join because it gives them something they want.

In each case, there is a resource that is shared among everyone within the community—information about the market, computer resources to make VOIP work better, the network effect from a popular network. That resource is shared independent of price. But in none of these cases is it realistic to imagine people joining or participating in these networks for thee-regarding reasons. These are me-regarding communities. They are thin sharing economies.

By contrast, in a thick sharing economy, motivations are more complex. A father might spend Sunday mornings teaching a Bible class at his church. Part of that motivation is about him. But certainly, part is also about improving the community of his church—a thee motivation. What the proportion is we need not specify. The only important point is that there are both, and that the more we think that there is a thee motivation, the thicker the community is.

This distinction between thick and thin will be important when considering differences among sharing economies. It will also be important in understanding the likelihood that any particular economy will survive over time. For despite the intuitions that names give to the contrary, a thin sharing economy is often easier to support than a thick sharing economy. This is because inspiring or sustaining thee motivations is not costless. Or at least, all things being equal, a me motivation (for us, now) comes more easily to most. Thus, distinguishing cases where a thee motivation is necessary from cases where it isn’t will be helpful in predicting whether a certain sharing economy will survive.

Beyond Wikipedia

The Internet learned to share, however, long before Wikipedia. Indeed, as commerce was banned from the Internet until 1991, one might well say that the Internet was born a sharing economy; commerce was added only later. There are many examples. Consider just a few:

• The code that built the Net came from a sharing economy. The software that built the original Internet was the product of free collaboration. Open-source, or free, software was distributed broadly to enable the servers and Internet protocols to function. The most famous of these projects was the GNU Project, which in 1983 was launched by Richard Stallman to build a free operating system, modeled upon the then dominant UNIX. For the first six years or so, Stallman and his loyal followers worked away at building the infrastructure that would make an operating system run. By the beginning of the 1990s, the essential part missing was the kernel of the operating system, without which the operating system as a
whole could not run.

A Finnish undergraduate decided to try to build that kernel. After tinkering a bit with a version, he released it to the Net for others to add to. This undergraduate was named Linus Torvalds. He named the kernel Linux. Soon, volunteers from around the world had helped improve the kernel enough that, when added to the other components of the GNU system, it built a robust and powerful operating system called either Linux or, better, GNU/Linux. The point to remark upon here is it was built by thousands volunteering to write code that would eventually guarantee that people could build upon and share an operating system.

Less famous than GNU/Linux, but just as important to the history of the Net, are the many instances of free software built to supply the basic plumbing of the Internet. As Robert Young and Wendy Goldman Rohm put it in their book, Under the Radar (1999):

In 1981, Eric Allman created Sendmail, an open source program that is responsible for routing 80 percent of the email that travels over the Internet. It is currently still maintained by thousands of online programmers via In addition, Allman started Sendmail Inc. as a business in November 1998. For a profit, he sells easy- to- use versions of the open source software, along with support and service, to corporations. Another important force in the open source world is Perl. It was created by 43- year- old Larry Wall, a former linguist who created Perl while at Burroughs Corp. on a government- funded project. The software is free, although Wall has sold 500,000 copies of his Perl manuals. Another open source program, BIND, was originally developed at the University of California at Berkeley as freeware. It allows domain names like to be entered as textual name addresses instead of machine numbers (called IP addresses, for example,, making it much easier for ordinary people to surf the Internet. Apache, the group founded by 25- year- old Brian Behlendorf, got its start when Behlendorf was hired to build Wired magazine’s Web site. In order to improve the Web server software, he programmed his own enhancements and circulated the results, with source code, on the Internet. Other contributors added their code, and Apache was created. The name came from the fact that the software was “a patchy” collection of code from numerous contributors. Currently, Apache is used by more than half of the Websites on the Internet. It was chosen by IBM, over Netscape’s and Microsoft’s closed- source Web server software, to be the foundation of IBM’s Web commerce software.56

Apache continues to be the dominant Web server on the Internet: for most of the first half of the decade, its market share was over 60 percent; today, despite fierce competition from proprietary server companies such as Microsoft and Apple, the market share remains in the mid-50-percent range.57 All of these products were initially built by people who lived within an economy of exchange. But their interactions within that economy were not metered by money. Some were paid by others so that they could afford to write software that would be free. But the terms of exchange for adding and changing this code were forbidden to be commercial. The core free-software license permits developers to sell their code. But they can never sell the right to modify or change the code they build onto free software. That economy is always to be a sharing economy.

Why does this kind of software development work? Or better, why does it often work so much better than proprietary software?

One reason is structural: when you write software that others are to work on, you must be more disciplined in your coding. Comments must be frequent. Code must be made more modular. That structure helps evaluate bugs. It also invites more to review the work of the coder: “with enough eyeballs all bugs are shallow.”58

But there’s a third reason that is frequently ignored. Free and open- source software takes advantage of the returns from diversity in a way that proprietary software hasn’t. As economist Scott Page has demonstrated in a foundational study about the efficiency of diversity, the success of an enterprise in solving a difficult problem depends not just upon the ability of the people solving the problem.59 Using mathematical economics, Page shows that the success also depends upon the diversity of the people solving the problem. What’s needed is not just, or even necessarily, racial diversity, but a diversity in experience and worldviews, so as to help a project fill in the blind spots inherent in any particular view.

That point in the abstract might not sound surprising: sure, diversity helps, just like ability helps. But the really surprising part of Page’s analysis is the relationship between the contribution from ability and the contribution from diversity: equal. Increasing diversity, in this sense, is just as valuable as increasing ability.

Thus, between two projects, one in which the workers are extremely smart but very narrow, and another in which the workers are not quite as smart but much more diverse, the second project could easily outperform the first. So even if you believe that proprietary firms can hire the very best programmers, an open-source project (with a wider diversity of coders) could easily outperform the proprietary project.

This dynamic, I suggest, explains a great deal of the success of the software sharing economy. It likewise could explain the success of Internet sharing economies as well.

• Project Gutenberg is a sharing economy. Founded in 1971 (yes, 1971), Project Gutenberg is the oldest digital library. Its founder, Michael Hart, launched the project to digitize and distribute cultural works. The first Project Gutenberg text was the Declaration of Independence. Today, there are more than twenty-two thousand books in the collection, with an average of fifty books added each week.60 The vast majority of the books in the collection are public domain works, primarily works of literature. Most are in English, and most are available in plain text only.61 Hart describes his mission quite simply: “to encourage the creation and distribution of e-books.” The economy of Project Gutenberg is a sharing economy. Volunteers add works to the collection; people download works freely from the collection. Price, or money, doesn’t police access. Voluntary contributions are all the supporters can rely upon to keep the work alive.

• Distributed Proofreaders is a sharing economy. Inspired by Michael Hart’s Project Gutenberg, and launched in 2000 by Charles Franks, the Distributed Proofreaders project was conceived to help proofread for free the books that Hart made available for free. To compensate for the errors of optical character recognition (OCR) technology, the Distributed Proofreaders project takes individual pages from scanned books and presents them to individuals, along with the original text. Volunteers then correct the text through a kind of distributed- computing project. (See the next item for more on distributed computing.) Distributed Proofreaders has contributed to more than ten thousand books on Project Gutenberg. In 2004, there were between three hundred and four hundred proofreaders participating each day; the project finished between four thousand and seven thousand pages per day— averaging four pages every minute.62 All of this work is voluntary.

• Distributed-computing projects are sharing economies. Distributed computing refers to efforts to enlist the unused cycles of personal computers connected to the Net for some worthy cause (worthy in the eyes of the volunteer, at least). The most famous was the SETI@home project, launched in 1999 and designed to share computing power for the purpose of detecting extraterrestrial life (or at least the sort that uses radios). More than 5 million volunteers eventually shared their computers with this project.63 But there are many more distributed- computing projects beyond the SETI project. A favourite of mine is Einstein@Home. As described by Wikipedia:

Einstein@Home is designed to search data collected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational- Wave Observatory (LIGO) and GEO 600 for gravitational waves. The project was officially launched on 19 February 2005 as part of American Physical Society’s contribution to the World Year of Physics 2005. It uses the power of volunteer- driven distributed computing in solving the computationally intensive problem of analyzing a large volume of data….As of June 3, 2006, over 120,000 volunteers in 186 countries have participated in the project.64 The contributions to these distributed-computing projects are voluntary. Price does not meter access either to the projects or to their results.

• The Internet Archive is a sharing economy. Launched in 1996 by serial technology entrepreneur (and one of the successful ones) Brewster Kahle, the Internet Archive seeks to offer “permanent access for researchers, historians, and scholars to historical collections that exist in digital format.”65 But to do this, Kahle depends upon more than the extraordinarily generous financial support that he provides to the project. He depends as well upon a massive volunteer effort to identify and upload content that should be in the archive. The archive employs “probably less than one-tenth of one person,” he told me. And “there have probably been over a thousand people that have uploaded” creative work to be preserved.66 All of the content is shared on the archive. Nothing is metered according to price.

• The Mars Mapping Project was a sharing economy. Scientists at NASA are eager to map the surface of Mars. Mapping means identifying and marking on their maps the locations of craters, the age of craters, and other significant geological formations. For years, NASA and others had done this by hiring professionals. For eleven months beginning in November 2000, NASA experimented with asking amateurs to do what professionals had done.

The theory of the experiment was that “there are many scientific tasks that require human perception and common sense, but may not require a lot of scientific training.” So NASA set up a site where volunteer “click workers” could spend “a few minutes here and there” and some would “work longer” doing “routine science analysis that would normally be done by ”a professional.67 For example, the site included “an interactive interface in which the contributor….clicks on four points on a crater rim and watches a circle draw itself around the rim….Pressing a button submits the set of latitude, longitude, and diameter numbers to [the] database.”68

The results were astonishing. Once word of the project got out, there were “over 800 contributors who made over 30,000 crater marking entries in four days.”69 Even after error correction, this was “faster than a single graduate student could have marked them, and also far faster than the original data was returned by the spacecraft.” Thirty- seven percent of the results were provided by onetime contributors. And when the results were redundancy compared, the accuracy was extremely high. As the study of the results concluded, “even if volunteers have higher error rates…., a cheap and timely analysis could still be useful. In some applications, noisy data can still yield a valid statistical result.”70 As Yochai Benkler describes: “What the NASA scientists running this experiment had tapped into was a vast pool of five-minute increments of human judgment, applied with motivation to participate in a task unrelated to ‘making a living.’ ”71

• Astronomy increasingly depends upon a sharing economy. Historically, astronomy always relied on amateurs. But as digital technologies have made it possible to gather huge amounts of data, there is a strong push within the field to encourage sharing of these data among astronomers. As the editors of Nature observed:

web technologies ….are pushing the character of the web from that of a large library towards providing a user-driven collaborative workspace….A decade ago, for example, astronomy was still largely about groups keeping observational data proprietary and publishing individual results. Now it is organized around large data sets, with data being shared, coded and made accessible to the whole community. Organized sharing of data within and among smaller and more diverse research communities is more challenging, owing to the plethora of data types and formats. A key technological shift that could change this is a move away from centralized databases to what are known as “web services.”72

The limits on this sharing are therefore not technical. They are “cultural.” “Scientific competitiveness will always be with us. But developing meaningful credit for those who share their data is essential to encourage the diversity of means by which researchers can now contribute to the global academy.”73

There’s some good evidence this norm is developing. The Digital Sky Project, for example, funded through the National Science Foundation, “provides simultaneous access to the catalogs and image data, together with sufficient computing capability, to allow detailed correlated studies across the entire data set.”74 Likewise with the U.S. National Virtual Observatory, another NSF- funded project, meant to develop “a set of online tools to link all the world’s astronomy data together, giving people all over the world easy access to data from many different instruments, at all wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum from radio to gamma rays.”75 The emphasis in all these cases is to provide a sharing economy in data, enabling researchers to draw upon the data to analyze and draw conclusions that advance the field of astronomy.

• The Open Directory Project is a sharing economy. As a complement to the search algorithms of major search engines, the Open Directory Project “is the largest, most comprehensive human edited directory of the Web. It is constructed and maintained by a vast, global community of volunteer editors.” Volunteers are asked to sign up to a particular area of knowledge. They are given tools to help them edit and modify links within the directory. The directory asks people to give “a few minutes” of their time to “help make the Web a better place.”76 No money polices access to the results of this project, or the right to participate in it.

• Open Source Food is a sharing economy. As described by its founder, “Open Source Food came to fruition because me and my father wanted to create a place for people like us. We’re not professional cooks, we just love food. We want to share, learn and improve ourselves with the help of like- minded food lovers. Open Source Food is a platform for that.” Users contribute recipes to the database of recipes. And while recipes as such can’t be copyrighted in the United States, the site uses Creative Commons licenses to make sure descriptive text and images are available freely as well.77 No money meters access to the site. Contributions are all voluntary.

The list could go on practically indefinitely. The Internet is filled with successful sharing economies, in which people contribute for reasons other than money. As Benkler argues, they contribute not because “we live in a unique moment of humanistic sharing.” Rather, the reason for all this sharing is that “the technological state of a society . . . affects the opportunities for . . . social, market . . . and state production modalities.”78 We’re living in a time when technology is favouring the social. More vibrant sharing economies are the result.

Lawrence Lessig is the Director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard University, and a Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Lessig is a founding board member of Creative Commons, a board member of the Software Freedom Law Center and a former board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Excerpted with permission from the book Remix: Making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy (Bloomsbury Academic: ISBN: 978-1408113479. October 2008). If you like what you read, buy a copy:


34. Benkler, “Sharing Nicely,” 282.
35. This is the phenomenon of “crowding out” described extensively by Professor Benkler in The Wealth of Networks. As he summarizes this work, “Across many different settings, researchers have found substantial evidence that under some circumstances, adding money for an activity previously undertaken without price compensation reduces, rather than increases, the level of activity” (94).
36. See Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality (New York: Basic Books, 1984).
37. Lewis Hyde, The Gift— Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property (New York: Vintage Books, 2004), 3.
38. Ibid., 56.
39. Ibid., 45–46.
40. Ibid., 82.
41. Benkler, “Sharing Nicely,” 327.
42. Ibid.
43. Ibid., 324; see also at 323, describing the work of Bruno Frey.
44. Increasingly the concern among record company executives is with social sharing. See Jason Pontin, “A Social- Networking Service with a Velvet Rope,” New York Times, July
29, 2007.
45. See Eric A. von Hippel and Karim Lakhani, “How Open Source Software Works: ‘Free’ User- to- User Assistance,” Research Policy 32 (2003): 923–43. Kollock (1999) discusses four possible motivations to contribute public goods online. Given that his focus is incentives to put online something that has already been created, his list does not include any direct benefit from developing the thing itself— either the use value or the joy of creating the work product. His list of motives to contribute does include the beneficial effect of enhancements to one’s reputation. A second potential motivator he sees is expectations of reciprocity. Both specific and generalized reciprocity can reward providing something of value to another. When information providers do not know each other, as is often the case for participants in open source software projects, the kind of reciprocity that is relevant is called “generalized” exchange (Ekeh, 1974). . . . The third motivator posited by Kollock is that the act of contributing can have a positive effect on contributors’ sense of “efficacy”— a sense that they have some effect on the environment (Bandura, 1995). Fourth and finally, he notes that contributors may be motivated by their attachment or commitment to a particular open source project or group. In other words, the good of the group enters into the utility equation of the individual contributor. (Ibid., 927.)
46. Or so the terms of service for Skype say. See “Skype End User License Agreement—Article
56. Robert Young and Wendy Goldman Rohm, Under the Radar: How Red Hat Changed the Software Business— and Took Microsoft by Surprise (Scottsdale, Ariz.: Coriolis Group Books, 1999), 110.
57. Netcraft, “Reports— What Is the Market Share of the Different Servers?” Netcraft— Web Server Survey, available at link #74 (last visited July 31, 2007): follow monthly “Index” link for November 1996–present; follow monthly “ALL” link for August 1995–October 1996.
58. Steven Weber, The Success of Open Source (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004), 234.
59. Scott E. Page, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2007).
60. Wikipedia contributors, “Project Gutenberg,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, available at link #75 (last visited October 10, 2007).
61. Ibid., available at link #76 (last visited October 10, 2007).
62. “Beginning Proofreaders’ Frequently Asked Questions,” Distributed Proofreaders, available at link #77 (last visited July 31, 2007).
63. Wikipedia contributors, “SETI@home,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, available at link #78 (last visited August 20, 2007). See also Benkler, “Sharing Nicely,” 275.
64. Wikpedia contributors, “Einstein@Home,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, available at link #79 (last visited August 20, 2007).
65. “About the Internet Archive,” Internet Archive, available at link #80 (last visited July 31, 2007).
66. All quotes from Brewster Kahle taken from an interview conducted January 24, 2007, by telephone.
67. NASA Ames, “Welcome to the Clickworkers Study,” Clickworkers, available at link #81 (last visited July 31, 2007).
68. B. Kanefsky, N. G. Barlow, and V. C. Gulick, “Can Distributed Volunteers Accomplish Massive Data Analysis Tasks,” Thirty- second Annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference 1272 (2001), available at link #82.
69. Ibid., available at link #83.
70. Ibid., available at link #84.
71. Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, 69.
72. “Let Data Speak to Data,” Nature 438 (2005), available at link #85 (last visited July 31, 2007), cited in Tapscott and Williams, Wikinomics, 159.
73. Ibid., available at link #86 (last visited July 31, 2007).
74. Michael W. Vannier and Ronald M. Summers, “Sharing Images,” Radiology 228 (2003), available at link #87.
75. U.S. National Virtual Observatory, available at link #88 (last visited July 31, 2007).
76. “About the Open Directory Project,” Open Directory Project, available at link #89 (last visited July 11, 2007).
77. “About Open Source Food,” Open Source Food, available at link #90 (last visited July 11, 2007).
78. Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, 121.