At the bakery where I usually buy bread they have an interesting habit. They are continually working on new elaborations and, every time a new product is created, they give a sample to customers in order to know their opinion. But the main goal is something different: to sell.

The practice of giving away is, however, one of the pillars of the Internet. We are talking about the gift economy, derived from the concept of “gift culture”, coined by Manuel Castells (2001) and originally referred to the collaborative production of software by hackers.

Nowadays, the gift economy has crossed the boundaries of computer programming to gradually settle among companies with a presence on the Internet. The result of this odd mixture can be revolutionary.

I say that this is a peculiar mixture because it combines two relational models that seem opposed to each other: the gift culture and the commercial transaction. However, analyzing the characteristics of the culture of gift on the Internet we can quickly understand how the two models can be perfectly compatible.

The gift culture is based on reciprocity where one of the parties produces a valuable product and “gives it away” to the community. In return, this gesture is rewarded by the community with prestige and reputation. But this transaction couldn’t be fully understood without considering that the primary aim of the gift is the self-realization through a creative act and that other community members also give away their own creations, so that everyone benefits from the creativity of all.

A real example of gift economy on the Internet? Simon Tofield.

Simon Tofield is a British animator best known as the creator of the animated series Simon’s Cat, about the antics of a cat. Beyond the high quality of these funny stories, Simon’s Cat stands out for the fact that the author has published all the episodes on YouTube.

In 2008, Simon Tofield received the British Animation Awards, but the most important is that after reaching over 25 million viewers on YouTube, in 2009 Simon published his first book based on the adventures of the cat, followed by three more books in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

This is just one example. There is no need to be a designer or to spend so much effort to offer something valuable to the Internet community. To take another example, let’s see the case of the Real Instituto Elcano, which publishes free and high quality reports on international relations. Or Excellentias, a site where a wide variety of articles and tutorials related to Excel can be found. Or Wix, with a great blog …

In short, it does no matter whether you are a creative or an electrical generators manufacturer. All companies have some knowledge, know-how and a unique experience. If that information or creation is shared over the Internet for the pleasure of creating something unique, the community will reward that gift with recognition.

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References

Castells, Manuel (2001) The Internet Galaxy