The Cornucopia of the Commons

Summary of: The Cornucopia of the Commons

Author(s) / Editor(s)

Dan Bricklin examines ways to induce a pool of users to contribute to a commons without extra effort, using the architecture of the commons (as in Napster's default to sharing in the way download directories are available) and leveraging user's self-interest.

Disciplines

Publication Reference

Published in/by
O'Reilly and Associates, Inc.
Date
March 2001

Findings

  • Users must want to use the shared repository, i.e. it should contain things that are of value to them.
  • Adding to the commons must be a "a natural by-product of the user's work" i.e. users should be "adding to the value of the database without doing any extra work."
  • Sharing should be the default.

Dan Bricklin examines ways to induce a pool of users to contribute to a commons without extra effort, using the architecture of the commons (as in Napster's default to sharing in the way download directories are available) and leveraging user's self-interest. The key to understanding the success of Napster and other file-sharing technologies resides not in their 'peer-to-peer' nature but in the fact that they provide users with access to a database of desirable things and enable people to create a public good in the process of seeking their own interests.

Bricklin identifies three ways to fill a database: organized manual, organized mechanical, and volunteer manual.

CDDB succeeded at motivating volunteer manual data entry because it leveraged the desire for users to have their data in the database so that CDDB-aware programs could access it, for example when a user would insert a CD into their computer.

Bricklin calls this "harnessing the power of individual selfishness."

Napster cleverly avoided manual data entry by automatically indexing anything in the user's 'Shared Music' directory. Thus "storing the copy in the shared music directory [was] a natural by-product of the user's work with the songs."

Sharing is the default. This results in users "adding to the value of the database without doing any extra work."