A question of give and take.

In what has become a crossover classic, Gareth Hardin's The Tragedy of the Commons has made its mark on the internet as it did a generation ago for the environmental movement. It was a long article, but its central thesis can be stated quite easily: when individuals relate to public space as infinite, as a commodity from which they can take freely without giving something in return, that public space will ultimately disappear. A recent research paper on Napster and related technologies sees cyberspace as a commons from which each person is free to download at will whatever they choose. After analyzing user behavior the authors conclude that most users never contribute to, but instead only take from, this commons. They conclude:
We argue that free riding leads to degradation of the system performance and adds vulnerability to the system. If this trend continues copyright issues might become moot compared to the possible collapse of such systems.
Even without dealing with the issue of possible collapse, the commons metaphor focuses on the essence of the problem. A basic operative premise of systems such as these is that they must contain material that people are interested in getting. Yet as a voluntary system, what's there to get is there because someone contributed it. If users only take without making materials available for others, ultimately nobody will be interested in using it because there's nothing there worth taking.

Other than instilling a strong ethical sense, and an understanding of the principles upon which a system such as this must function, can anything be done to change this situation? Perhaps. A new service, Mojo Nation, has appeared on the scene that thinks it can solve the freeloading problem:

Mojo Nation compensates users who provide the resources, content, and indexing services. Effectively preventing cheating, denial of service, and freeloading, Mojo Nation fosters an information market for all types of content. This is accomplished through a micropayment system which denominates the internal tokens, called Mojo, in the same resources needed to provide the services: disk space, bandwidth, and CPU cycles. In time you will be able to buy and sell these tokens, turning Mojo you earn into real dollars.
Whether or not a system such as this can remain decentralized is, of course, still to be determined. I can at least write that I've done my own small part to maintain the community. While working on this column, and downloading some music I'd been looking for, I noticed that Napster was working in a manner I hadn't noticed before. And then I realized that someone had located something that he or she was interested in on my hard drive and was downloading it. It was a piece of music that I'd downloaded from someone else about a week earlier, but even so it was still an honor that my hard drive was the available source that someone chose in order to get something nice to listen to.

Go to: The internet shows it's true worth, or
Go to: Gimme, Gimme, Gimme!