Free riders in web 2.0
It is indeed wonderful that we have created a mechanism of wisdom based on sharing and contributing. Many of us do enjoy it. But how many of us actually contribute efforts to this self created human system? How many do participate actively by publishing their own ideas, by rating the issues discussed, or by commenting to others?
A quick tour to digg, dzone or even to the very successful web 2.0 site- youtube, shows a statistically poor picture of contributors among viewers.
While the math is easy, it is hard to accept that youtube’s popular list presents over 2 million views per video with only 3,000 votes.
As for digg, holding an impressive number of visitors (1.3 million a month) only 500 k were joined users with the ability to digg. For the most popular post of the last 365 days ? an outstanding number of diggs can be found (14,590 diggs). And yet ? is it a satisfying ratio considering the number of views with none active diggs? Is it a satisfying ratio for a random front page story to receive not more than 500 diggs and 65 comments?
The ratio data (views per voters or per rankers, viewers per comments; viewers per members) found at other sites is even poorer and reach about 3-5% at most.
In the psychological-economical field of interest where I come from, we address a public sharing mechanism as “public good” and we refer to the problem of contribution as “the free rider problem”.
free riding receives much attention in the scientific literature:
My contribution to the wonderful web2.0 sharing mechanism is to try and set us a new perspective and enjoy scientific research accomplished over the last 50 years.
The concept of web 2.0 fits the characteristics of a public good.
We can have a good start at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_good
The public good dilemma represents a variety of real-life decision problems, such as the decision to buy a television/radio license, donate to charity organizations, become a member of a labor union, or participate in volunteer work. In each of these instances individuals are better off if the good or service is provided without their contribution as everyone can profit from its existence. However, if hardly anyone makes a contribution these facilities will cease to exist and everyone is worse off.
It is important to understand that public goods are characterized by two properties: jointness of supply and non-excludability (Hardin 1982). The impossibility to exclude group members who didn’t contribute to the provision of goods from sharing its profits gives rise to the possibility that rational members (this is the game theory perspective) will prefer to withhold their contribution of effort and free ride on contribution of others (Marwell and Ames, 1979).
This prediction is supported by experimental results showing that free riding is the major motive for not contributing in public goods situations (Simmons et al 1984; Rapoport and Eshed-Levy, 1989). Although many public goods succeed, many other do not.
This brings us back to the web2.0 structure. We all have access to this form of “public good” but only a few of us contribute efforts.
One can suggest that this is acceptable and that we can pay this price of free riding, but imagine what our web will look like if we will be able to enhance contribution behavior?we will definitely have a better and richer “good” to enjoy from.
Why should we try to minimize the free riding phenomena?
Imagine that the norm of non contribution will dominate over time, either by users or by current loyal contributors getting tired or disappointed by the fact that so many others do free ride? We would all probably have a poorer good.
I call you, the web 2.0 veterans and believers to address your thoughts and ideas concerning this problem. We all know that web 2.0 can be more successful if we will enhance the basic norm of contribution. It is really up to us to shape our environment and to set the necessary norms. Only by participating and taking action (even a minimal contribution of time and effort for adding our ideas and thoughts or ranking and commenting others) we can ensure that sites we like will flourish.
The good news is that there are in fact extensive studies showing contribution behavior can be increased. On my next post I will present experimental findings for different solutions to this public good situation.
Most of the references I used are open for university libraries subscribers only. Though, you can google some of them or freely use the wikis for the terms: public good, free rider problem, collective action, “the tragedy of the common”.
In this post – I used the following sources:
- Hardin, R. 1982. Collective Action. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Olson, M., Jr. 1965. The Logic of Collective Action. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Marwell, G. and R. Ames. 1979. `Experiments on the Provision of Public Goods. I. Resources, Interest, Group Size, and the Free-rider Problem.’American Journal of Sociology84: 1335-1360.
- Rapoport, A. and D. Eshed-Levy. 1989. `Provision of Step-level Public Goods: Effects of Greed and Fear of Being Gypped.’Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes44: 325-344.
- Simmons, R., R. Dawes and J. Orbell. 1984. `An Experimental Comparison of the Two Motives for not Contributing to a Public Good: Desire to Free Ride and Fear of Being Gypped.
- Suleiman, R. (1997). ‘Provision of step ? level public goods under uncertainty a theoretical analysis’ Rationality and Society, Vol. 9, No. 2, 163-187.