Rational sharing and its limits


  • Wai-Yin Ng




People differ in their willingness to share, as well as their reasons to do so. An open collaboration community of willing sharing members thrives on a virtuous cycle: increased sharing often offers stronger reasons for more people to share. However, it may also decline when the cycle goes the opposite direction and turns vicious. What determines the dividing line? We offer insights into this important question based on an analytic understanding of the concept of rational sharing, which is sharing for net gain in personal utility. In a nutshell, a community thriving on rational sharing is essentially an economic system, a platform for creating mutual benefit through exchanges. This analysis is based on our prior work in statistical modelling of peer–to–peer systems. There are two salient features. First, the shared content is modelled as a mixture of different types of goods. Members’ sharing is pooled and organized into supply, which in turn is brought to match with demand from the members themselves, and a wider community also in the case of open access. The importance of the goodness of match between supply and demand is therefore apparent. Second, incentive schemes are modelled simply as dependence between the quality of service a member sees and the level of sharing. Being simplistic, it points to an interesting generic observation: no incentive is strong enough to break the catch–22 situation during startup unless some seed content is present. We are not suggesting rationality as the only conscious basis of sharing for individuals. Quite the contrary, we gauge the limits of rational sharing thereby, and identify when and how non–rational bases of sharing is needed. For instance, high quality open access Wikis we witness today would not have been sustainable if sharing had been purely rational, as meaningful reward in quality gain has to be reserved for enticing rational members.




How to Cite

Ng, W.-Y. (2006). Rational sharing and its limits. First Monday, 11(6). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v11i6.1341