Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Punishment, Self-Interest, and Cooperation

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Apr 16, 2006

BusinessPundit writes,
The moral here is that the people don't want power. They don't want to vote. They just want to be in the know. So they read the site, but they don't participate. There is no wisdom of crowds or power of the masses or anything else. It is the same model as old media, except the editors are now self-appointed.
This article is based on the presumption that people who do not vote for an article are not participating. This presumption is, of course, false. Digg's participation rate is the number of people who look at the articles, not the number of people who think they should be 'digged'.

This article is also based on the presumption that a low participation rate in a larger group means that there is no participation, "here is no wisdom of crowds or power of the masses or anything else," and that it's no different from journalism.

This presumption is also false. First, 1,000 people voting in favour (and many more deciding not to vote) still constitutes a crowd, and their actions still constitute participation.

The difference between Digg and journalism is that anyone who wants to *can* participate. This is very different from a system in which decisions are made for you no matter what you say about it.

Of course, the purpose of the article is to carp about freeloaders and to remind readers that there is no such thing as altruism. The author may well be convinced of this, though it takes a very selective filtering of the data to support this position empirically.

What, for example, is the reward for typing this comment? I am more likely to be punished, via spam and hate mail. It doesn't matter to me whether the author believes there is such a things as altruism. And if he wants to offer business advice based on this incorrect precept, that's his problem.

The problem is, the author is confusing between 'altruism' and 'expressing oneself'. Take a site like Flickr or Deviant Art, for example. These are sites based on rampant sharing, on the wholesale giving away of artistic content for nothing. Altruism run amok! But they are also, more importantly, sites where people can express themselves, where they can be creative.

It is true that only a certain percentage of the population wants to be creative at any given time, and in any given fashion. This is perhaps just as well; we are being drowned in free content as it is. There is too much altruism in the world for us to keep up!

That's why the whole freeloaders argument is such a crock. There is no such thing as a freeloader, really. The members of an audience are not freeloading off the artists. They are giving the artist a reason to perform. Just so, the non-voting members of Digg are not sponging off the voting members. They are, rather, giving the voting members a reason to vote.

When you view that people do, in Web 2.0 or elsewhere, as 'product', then you get skewed economics and skewed business models, as typified in this column. But if you see it more accurately as 'interaction' or 'communication', then you are closer to the heart of it.

I mean, after all, if you cannot imagine writing a letter to your grandmother for any reason other than profit, then not only do you have a cold cold heart, you have also missed the whole point of what *really* drives an economy.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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