Debunking Digital Free Riding


If you’ve taken economics, you know what free riding is, but if you haven’t thought about the web enough, you may realize it’s a concept that no longer makes sense in the digital realm. Tim Lee (of TLF, not the WWW) has a great piece on it. Here’s a quick excerpt:

I would make a stronger point: the very notion of a “free-rider problem” is nonsensical when we’re talking about a project like Wikipedia. When Roberts says that Wikipedia solves “some of” the free-rider problem, he seems to be conceding that there’s some kind of “free rider problem” that needs to be overcome. I think even that is conceding too much. In fact, talking about “free riding” as a problem the Wikipedia community needs to solve doesn’t make any sense. The overwhelming majority of Wikipedia users “free ride,” and far from being a drag on Wikipedia’s growth, this large audience acts as a powerful motivator for continued contribution to the site. People like to contribute to an encyclopedia with a large readership; indeed, the enormous number of “free-riders”—a.k.a. users—is one of the most appealing things about being a Wikipedia editor.

Great stuff.


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