MAS 960  ·  Signals, Truth & Design Seminar  ·  Fall 2007

10.30 gifts of money, time and things



Bergquist, Magnus and Jan Ljungberg.
   2001. The power of gifts: Organizing social relationships in open source communities. Information Systems Journal 11, no. 4: 305-320.
[link for non-subscribers ]
Camerer, Colin.   1988. Gifts as economic signals and social symbols. The American Journal of Sociology Organizations and Institutions: Sociological and Economic Approaches to the Analysis of Social Structure 94, no. Supplement: S180-S214.
[ link for non-subscribers ]
Glazer, Amihai and Kai A. Konrad.

   1996. A signaling explanation for charity. The American Economic Review 86, no. 4: 1019-1028.
[ link for non-subscribers ]
Donath   draft. some notes about gifts as signals


  1. Read the papers. Camerer looks at how personal gifts function as signals about relationship status; Glazer and Konrad look at public gifts as signals of status; Bergquist and Ljungberg look at the function of "gifts" in open source communities.

2. Answer the following questions:

  • Using Camerer's writing as a foundation, describe the possible effects of public wish-lists on the signaling function of gifts.
  • Some of the problems in online dating sites include: people not knowing how others perceive them, not being able to sense "status" within the group (and thus not knowing who would be a reasonably likely match), deceptive self-presentation and lack of courtesy. Would instituting a culture of gift giving within the site help any of these problems (or others)? If so, how and why would gifts help? How would you implement it? What would the disadvatages be?
  • Facebook has a "gift" feature. What is the function of these gifts? Is their cost important? The first month that gifts were implemented the money went to charity; since then, it has gone to Facebook. What is the significance of where the money goes in terms of gifting? (you may want to read the blog entries by Fred Stutzman and danah boyd in addition to looking at the site itself).
  • Gifts often have a special presentation - the prototypical gift is wrapped and be-ribboned. What purpose does the wrapping serve? Is there a virtual equivalent? The "gifts" that Bergquist and Ljungberg describes are not specially demarcated as gifts - do you think that they are, indeed, gifts? Would clearly designating them as gifts change their function? How? How would you go about doing that?

Please link your essays by Monday midday.