Gift-giving in Freemium: from Napster to Soundcloud   no comments

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In the online ethnographic (or netnographic) study by Markus Gielser[1], he describes Napster the original peer-to-peer music sharing service, operating between 1999 and 2001, as a consumer gift-giving system meeting classic anthropological requirements. Giesler details the key qualities which define the service as a gift-giving system: social distinctions, e.g. between gift-giving to build social cohesion and commercial exchange; the norm of reciprocity, i.e. the basic exchange rules identified and owned by Napster users and embodied in the software; and the rituals and symbolisms, e.g. the meaningful user names chosen by people to indicate their musical areas of expertise.

Where else do gift-giving systems exist on the web, other than in peer-to-peer file- sharing systems? In Open Source, where time and intellectual capital is shared freely in software development groups? In online user communities around products and services (e.g. Mac Forums[2]) or question resolution and advice giving sites such as Stackoverflow[3] and Quora[4]?

Do web businesses deploy gift-giving systems in the permutations of the Freemium[5] business models used for services with online communities? And if yes, are they used to build social cohesion, is there reciprocity and is there evidence of rituals and symbolism? In the popular music sharing service Soundcloud[6] users upload original music and seek and give comments from and to peers. The heart of the basic free service is the online community in which people with meaningful identities  reciprocally gift-give, according to unwritten rules of exchange, both music and critical appreciation to develop social networks.The premium upgrade does not provide additional community features, it gives increased music file storage to support promotional use by professional musicians. Soundcloud exemplifies how the Freemium model can both support classic group gift-giving behaviours and use the commercial exchange model in a complementary way.

[1] Consumer Gift System: Netnographic Insights from Napster, Markus Giesler, Journal of Consumer Research, June 2006




[5] Free: how today’s smartest businesses profit by giving something for nothing, Chris Addison, 2010.


Written by Caroline Halcrow on October 22nd, 2012

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