MAS 961  ·  Techno-Identity  ·  Spring 2006

03.24 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.
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Camerer, Colin.   988. 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.
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Glazer, Amihai and Kai A. Konrad.

   1996. A signaling explanation for charity. The American Economic Review 86, no. 4: 1019-1028.
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  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.
  • Last week we looked at dating sites and identified some of the problems as people not knowing how others perceived 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 any of these problems (or others) be adderssed by instituting a culture of gift giving within the site? If so, how and why would gifts help? How would you implement it? What would the disadvatages be?
  • 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?

3. Analyze a social interface / environment for its signaling components. You will present your analysis in class either on the 6th or the 13th (we'll do a few of these presentation both weeks). The interface/environment you choose must be or use some communicaton technology. You will look both at a general type of interface and at particular instantiations of it. Some examples would be: Live Journal blogs (looking both at the provided interface components and closely examining specific instances; slashdot and a set of actual discussions there; any online game; instant messaging; a social networking site; wikipedia; cellphones; online poker; ebay; experimental technologies such as animated chat sites or affective-technology assisted communication, etc.  You may also choose to look closely at a community that may use multiple communication systems, such as the community of magicians Seth described.

Your analysis should focus on teh signalng aspect of the communication. What are the receivers trying to figure out? What cues or signals do they have to work with? What keeps the communication sufficently reliable (or are there likely instances of deception)? What are the associated costs? Benefits? Is there a tradition of gift giving? Do the people know each other from face to face interaction? How is is repuation established? What enforces social norms? How are social norms established and how do they become known to newcomers?

Please draw from oru readings to bolster your claims (and do use other sources when appropriate).

You should write the equivalent of a 3 page paper on this topic and be prepared to present your analysis to the class.

Please link your paper and presentation and, separately, your essay by midday on Tuesday (April 4) .