the “value” in a gift – social media quantification

This post grows out of the donation from Lisa Thorell @lisat2 – I have serious appreciation when people take the time and passion to think along with me, especially when they find some disagreement. I’m using her thought to explore what I am meaning. Lisa makes a great point that my seemingly less than idea term “incalculability” might be better expressed as “value”:

I wonder too if “incalculability” might better considered as “value” of the gift. For some reason, it strikes me as a truism, that yes, you are correct that a gift creates indebtedness. And what’s more interesting – the larger the value of the gift, the greater the indebtedness. So methinks it gets somewhat illuminating if the incalculable parameter is changed to “value” instead. Then its possible to plot that the higher the value of the gift, the greater the status chamge (indebtedness), smaller gift, less indebtedness/status change.

find the  full comment here

A lot of this may stem from my inability to properly frame my concept of incalculability, and why I chose such an admittedly unmanageable term. As I mentioned in a short response on Twitter, “value” can be a difficult term when discussing the differences between Gift Economy and Market Economy. The reason for this is because the term value lives a double life meaning both the exact value of an object within a market (price) and also the inexact somewhat qualitative sense of obligation/pleasure we feel in Gift Economy.

A short answer I can give is that the reason I picked “incalculability” was because all four of my vectors are meant as ways of gauging Gift value itself. In other words, status change, rite, historical record and incalculability contribute to our sense of a gift’s value. My ultimate hope with this graph is to be able to sketch out the profile of various gift scenerios, and see differences. For instance one gift’s value might come heavily from “status change” but without much sense of rite, etc, while another might be derive its sense of value from rite and historical record, and so on.

Why Incalculability?

But to explain incalculability itself is really in order here. The word is meant to stand in direct contrast to the precise calculations characteristic of value in Market Economy. It is the degree to which an obligation to repay is incalculable that can position it more firmly in Gift Economy, I have a feeling. So this works a like a vector by which we might be able to chart this. A quick example from real and digital social life:

A handshake is somewhat calculable, or perhaps a better way to say that: it’s value does not seem significantly derived from the creation of (positive) debt that is passed back and forth in various states of imbalance. There is a basic 1 to 1 sense of reciprocity and not a sense that the debt is heavy. In fact once the extended hand in received and met with similar intent the obligation has reasonably been evened. It is strong in rite, there is a change of status and almost no sense of historical record.

The #usguys (Twitter hashtag) #ringthetribalbell initiation process is much more incalculable. For those who are unfamiliar, an otherwise undefined group has a custom of greeting new members through a public calling of members together, in a digital space. If you have received the bell and this is experienced as welcome there is no actually reciprocal calculation possible. You have been welcomed by many in an unanticipated way, have experienced a substantial change of status as result, and there is no real = sign operating here.

Perhaps these are not the best examples, but they are what comes to mind. The main point is to bring out the incalculable nature of certain kinds of gifts. Why this difference is important is that it points to an essential aspect of Marcel Mauss’s original conception of the Gift and it’s imposition of obligation.

For those unfamiliar, Mauss was a early anthropologist/sociologist whose writings on The Gift frame much of the Gift Economy perspective. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of Mauss’s thought on gifting is his notion of “total prestation”. He was drawing from the work of others on the Maori among others and came to see that if pushed to its logical limit the “gift” involved a complete and utter giving of a group entirely to another group in avoidance of all out war – a concept made in contrast to Hobbes’ own invention of the Ur individual contract that make up the famous Social Contract:

–  Manuel d’Ethnographie

To our ears such “primitive” clan to clan gifting sounds like something that bears little resemblance to how we socially organize ourselves, but I do want to speak about a very common form of gifting that captures the complete sense of “prestation” that we all might understand. Remember, this totality of obligation is meant to stand in contrast to the exact kinds of repayment that characterize Market Exchanges. It is for this reason that tracking the this vector away from exactitude seems like a worthy distinction to me. Another way of stating this might be: the degree to which a gift diverges from Market logic.

So what is this total prestation gift? Why, marriage of course. Don’t roll your eyes you Straussians and anti-Straussians.

Hopefully one can appreciate this example even if you don’t “believe in” marriage. The point is that marriage still culturally carries a great deal of Mauss’s ideal of total and complete gifting, one in which the debt is never absolved. There is direct reciprocal calculation of 1 to 1 but all that is involved in the giving to one another is a kind of totalization. Interestingly enough, the marriage gift also – at least in my pov – gains its value rather strongly through the other three vectors of gift giving: status change, rite and historical record.

Conclusion

I feel I have answered this question rather clumsily, in part because it is still developing in my mind, in part because I believe that the incalculability of gifts is something that defies words and maybe even examples. We all feel the tug of obligation in gifts. We even will avoid gifts if we don’t want to be under their debt. We can sense by custom, but almost with an extra-perception “ethical” social awareness just what the bounds of a gift obligation may be. The upper end of my analysis graph of gifting is an attempt to capture this amplitude. How much does the gift pull on you? How much is the gift subject to a calculable neutralization?

The above graphs are of course just top of my head sketches, and most certainly could have been drawn differently if real world contexts were taken into consideration. And I really should have probably used an example far less obscure than the digital custom of bell ringing in a Twitter hashtag community. But because most people who have been most intimately involved in this early discussion know this phenomena, and because the short term aim of this Gift Economy analysis is directed toward understanding the logic behind social media groups, perhaps it is not far fetched.

I hope to bring many more widely appreciated and recognized illustrative examples together to test out if these four vectors are indeed fundamental. And perhaps even more importantly, to start diagnosis existing social media groups and building others under the kinds of questions these four dimensions bring to the forefront.

Follow the conversation over at the hashtag #gifteco.

Some Twitter people of variety who have been expressing interest in this line of thought:

@dabarlow @9INCHmarketing @RicDragon @PPLopez @aldsaur @PaulBiedermann @67tallchris

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four principles of gift – getting down to basics

The number 1 rule for understanding Gifts:    Gifts are not repayable.

This is not to say that there is no obligation to repay, or return when receiving a gift. Rather, quite the opposite. There is a strong, and to some degree mysterious power in the gift that puts you in debt, and it is the nature of this debt that is key to understanding how aside from market economy, there is a completely other economy that makes the world go round: Gift Economy.

The main reason for this post is to clarify and build upon yesterday’s post where I proposed a graph of four fundamental terms of the Gift. This is improvisational thinking, so it’s a think-along. The Gift vector image I re-post at the top here. The aim is to define these terms a bit, explain why I chose them, and perhaps get into how such a diagram can help us design better social media and marketing exchange.

This may get a little abstract, so reel me in and ask questions.

Just What is a Gift

First I’m going to start with defining the terms. Each gift situation has I believe 4 components. Sometimes one or more of these will be quite minor, but optimally, or ideally there are these four:

incalculability –  This is the rule that gifts cannot be fully or exactly repaid. The emphasis is on the barring of exactness. If you give me a nice book for my birthday, the only way I can nullify this gift as a gift would be to offer you the exact price of the book back. Even if I refuse the book I cannot nullify the gift of it. Your gift would still be on my social ledger, so to speak. This impossibility of exact reciprocity is what characterizes Gift Economy from the Market Economy.  Market Economy’s exact payment exchanges actually threaten to end relationships – once the ledger is even, all is done. As anthropologist David Graeber likes to point out, if Gift Economy cultures exact exchanges are only something someone does with enemies. Gift Economy relationships bind together and perpetuate themselves through the uneven passing of social debt. The unpayability. As I hope to talk about at another time, this unpayability takes on many forms, with different kinds of thresholds, and the nature of its “incalculable” can help us figure out what kind of gift it is.

the rite – I’m going to say that all gift-giving in some way embodies a rite, which is to say that it embodies some invested human action with specific rules or expectations, the repetition of which adds value to the act. The rite, or ritual, or custom of the act means that when repeated certain values of the group are reaffirmed or re-inscribed. When you give me a book on my birthday, part of the value of this gift is not just what you mean to me, or what I mean to you. The value also comes from the affirmation of the act of birthday gift giving. And because of this, there are likely many social mores on how to give a birthday gift (and how to accept one) which govern the transaction. So, when we ask ourselves what kind of gift something is, we need to ask: how much of the value of this gift lies within the invocation of rite or custom? For some gift scenarios this vector might be fairly non-apparent  – maybe competing in an opensource contest – for others substantially so, like shaking someone’s hand. This is one of the dimensions of a gift.

status change – This is a very significant, and perhaps difficult to measure dimension of the gift. All gift giving by degree has bearing on the identity of the giver – even if only as a factor in self-image. It also has bearing upon the identity of the receiver (and additionally others in the group, and the group itself). These questions of identity are perhaps most easily thought of in terms of status change. When a gift is given: What is happening to the status of the giver, and to the receiver or witnesses? And how much does this status change factor into the value of the gift? This factor of status change is most evident in “agonistic giving” found in “primitive” or archaic Gift Economy cultures where members compete and even exhaust themselves over who can give the bigger donation. But one doesn’t have to travel to exotic locations or times. Agonistic giving drives many gift scenarios, some of them as close as the nearest pub or as transnational as the SETI@home supercomputer project (Benkler).

There is some complexity here though. One might see how status change can be related to incalculability, the unrepayable nature of gifts. Your gift of a book on my birthday both cements us as friends, but also puts me a bit in the hole. I am, paradoxically, both raised up (honored) and put in your debt. You are both diminished – humbling yourself as gift-giver – but raised up as being the one with surplus enough and power enough to give, placing me in your debt. It is this double bind of status changes that secures our bond in that example. Of course it is more than this bond. If we are part of a group, the status of the group is changed. And if others in the group witness the gifting, their status can be affected as well: “Gee, I wish I brought something for his birthday”; or, “I love that my husband, my family, got such a nice book!”  In any case, if one wants to know better just what kind of gift something is, look to the changes in status that come from it, and how much status change is involved in the value of the gift itself.

historical record – The last vector I can identify is the idea that in some way or form the gift has been recorded. There is a value to gift giving that comes from the fact that the donation has been marked down, a sense of permanence. There are of course gradations. It can move from just something that you and I will remember between us to something inscribed in the annals of history, or perhaps even the Mind of God. Or, it can be the way that your gift becomes a functional part of a solution. If you designed a software program, or a carburetor, the “historical record” or permanence may consist in knowing that your contribution is going to be functioning over and over again in all variations of the larger product. There is an aspect in which this is similar to “the rite” – because socially rites or customs can be seen as machines of a kind, records of permanence – but I count these as different vectors. The value that comes historical record indeed can create rites or customs (e.g., it is customary for whomever who dies in war to have their name inscribed on this wall), but looking to HOW something is recorded, and the degree to which that recording influences value produces different observations than asking what pre-existing rite or custom is being reinforced.

Getting Down to the Real World

Okay, that is a lot of words, but I think it is worthwhile to try to flesh out these concepts. Next though is to start bringing these terms alive and making them applicable. The first analysis is pretty bold and simple. If you have a gift giving situation – blog comments, Twitter RTs, customer reviews, opensource solutions, Digital Tribe building, Freemium offers, customer bonuses, etc, etc. to be common about it – and you want to strengthen or enrich them, look to each of these four vectors and ask youself: How much value of the gift is found on this vector, and is there anyway for us to increase it?

  • Is there a way for us to record more fully the fact of the donation? Can we give the giver a deeper sense of permanence? The mark that it matters.
  • Can we improve the sense of status change, or produce agonistic giving to forward the process? Can we indicate status change distinctly among a group?
  • How repayable is this gift, and is there a way to make it feel even less repayable, or generate more cycles of back and forth positive debt and gift exchange. What are the standards of repayment, and can we deepen these or invent new ones?
  • Does this gift scenario in anyway draw it’s value on custom or rite? If not, can we establish one or tap into pre-existing customary forms? If so, is there a way we can amplify this sense of repeatable value, to make it more a part of process when suitable?

Those are just a few preliminary questions that arise. I’m going to have to stop here, but hopefully soon we can cover how to graph out actual examples on this diagram, and start diagnosing specific Gift Economy situations. The hope is to come up with a diagnostic that keeps our eye upon the important factors that are happening, with an aim to making the exchange more meaning and therefore more lasting. A number of these aspects are somewhat invisible because they are just assumed, and become part of the social fabric. We want bring them out into the bold.

Follow our just starting Twitter conversation on Gift Economy at the hashtag #gifteco

vectors of a gift – gift economy

I’m a pretty visual person, so I’m putting this up as a place holder for future thought. Yesterday I sketched out for myself my four fundamental aspects of a Gift. What we mean by gift is this: an inexactly repayable exchange whose very unending obligation perpetuates the relationship in a kind of positive debt which can pass back and forth between persons. This in a hidden way can be said to underwrite more exact market economy exchanges.

The idea diagrammed above is that if we isolate these (or some other) constitutive vectors we might be able to analyze gift-giving scenarios, and seek to strengthen their effectiveness and bonds when we build them for commerce. Whether they be crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, freemium, open-innovation, organized charity donations, blogging behaviors, social medium spaces, Digital Tribe building (such as currently being done with #usguys hashtag), product giveaways, or any of the other social marketing-like issues, we are looking for constant dimensions to keep our eye on.

These four juxtaposed terms are a placeholder. It works as a promise for me to return and explain what I mean by these terms. But also it is a chance for anyone who has been involved in the conversation on Gift Economy to think about the diagram, and come up with what it might mean to them. Right now it will remain a pictographic theory. Provisional, of course, but perhaps it gives a sense of the space I am thinking in.

Interested in your impressions. The hope is to think about Gift Economies in every way, from story telling, to anthropology, to abstract theorizing, but end up with real world observations and real world differences that can be made, in particular to the new Social Media. How to make Gift Giving and customer/user contribution more central and powerful.

the neighborly thing to do – gift economy in everyday life

The recent talk on gift exchange has me thinking about areas in my everyday life where a sense of in-exact obligation to repay a gift expresses itself. Part of the reason for thinking about everyday examples of non-market equivalences that bind is that they are organic to our culture and custom. They might give insight into deeply rooted mechanisms of status change and obligation that often pass invisible, while we just assume that everyone does things out of a motivation of  calculated profit (it is amazing how much this analytic myth conditions our eyes).

Yesterday I wrote about the “take a penny, give a penny” dishes that are near almost every small store register. Today I am taken back to an experience I had when I first moved into this house. We live up near a state park, more than an hour above nyc. It is a pretty small town up in the hills, and not the kind of property keeping I’ve ever been exposed to. We rent the house. It’s a culdesac and most of the home lawns are pretty well kept, hedges trimmed etc.

The Man Next Door: Positive Debt

My next door neighbor is a wonderful man. Salt of the earth, once raised on a farm. Now in his 70’s he is still country strong and works his property with effortless detailing and cultivation. Open-hearted, not nosy in the least, and very quiet, the very epitome of what a good neighbor is. When I first moved in I just let the hedge grow. I’m not a manicured yard kind of fellow, and I like things growing a bit wild around the house. But admittedly the Forsythia hedge grows fast and a little too strongly. That late summer Vinny, when with the electric clippers out trimming his own hedge, knocked on my door and offered to trim a little off mine. The truth was, I relieved. I didn’t have the tool, and it would look a bit nicer. Again, I’m not really a handy tool guy.

So he just trimmed it right up, careful not to get too extreme with it, and probably relieved himself of having to look at the wayward shoot and stems that had gotten a little excessive. What followed though was really a revealing adventure in Gift Economy. He trimmed it a few more times that summer, whenever he headed over to his own and the trimmer was humming. And I developed a deep sense of appreciation for his work and care. Well within me I got the sense that I wanted to repay him, not to make it even, but really to let him know how moved I was.

I asked him directly: What can I do for you? He said, “Nah, it’s nothing. Maybe a six pack of beer once in a while.”

The Good Problem of Repayment

The problem was that the value of what he was doing for me, to me personally, far exceeded what a six pack of beer was. In fact, there was a double problem. One didn’t want to “pay” him as if he was doing work for me, because this would reduce the status of what he was doing. He was not “doing work”. But also I wanted to express the significant well-spring of my heart that felt great on having such a wonderful man living next to me, making me feel at home in the neighborhood, and yet doing this appropriately to a quiet, man-of-few-words, old school man.

Well, as is my way, it didn’t go so well. There I was in the grocery store aisle trying to pick out a six pack of Coors Light (which he said he liked), and it just didn’t seem right. He had trimmed the hedge a few times already, enjoying what he was doing, shaping up the next door look. So I got him a case (or maybe it was even two?!, it has been several years now). I put it on his doorstep with a note because he seemed like a fellow who didn’t like having his privacy disturbed. And I felt I had expressed my appreciation.

Well, it turns out that this was a little much. Ha. I think he got in a little trouble with his wife for having so much beer in the house – he’s not an alcoholic afterall! – and gently suggested that a smaller amount, and making it Diet Pepsi might be better. And thank you very much for all the beer, don’t know what I’m going to do with it!

So things evolved. I bought him a couple of six packs of diet soda, but pretty soon it became apparent that the Gift of the hedging could not be repaid, in the sense that there was not real purchase of something that really was reciprocal to what he was doing. What he was doing was taking care of me and my house, out of the surplus of the things he valued and what he was very skilled at. What has become of this is perhaps the most key aspect of Gift giving. It is not just that things are exchanged in some sort of back-scratching passing of gifts back and forth – sometimes it is just like that, when it develops a ritual of appropriateness though. It is that status is changed. Relationships become defined by the gift itself, and it’s acceptance.

The Change in Status

Vinny watches over me and my house. He quietly, as an older and life-wise man, is guardian. Out of his surplus of dignity and attentiveness he sets just the right tone. He comes out when I can’t get my car out of the ice, hearing the wheels spin, and shows me a technique I would never have thought of. He greets my dog when she breaks free from the porch, and puts her back in, without saying a word. I think it would be a mistake to calculate any of this status position as the pursuit of profit analogized to money. It is deeper than that, and much richer.

What this means for businesses that want to create and curate customer/user donation – whether it merely be word of mouth (retention) as Stan Phelps @9INCHmarketing brings out, or substantive contributions to product content or design – is that the thing to watch is how status changes, and not what exact payments there are. The dis-equal, un-repayable, signification of surplus passing of gifts creates bonds that lift each the giver and the receiver (in most cases). They change the status of each. We in business need ways to create spaces and means of gift passing that sew together a space where the attachment becomes more and more meaningful, especially when considering situations where market economy logic threatens to signal the end of the relationship with every exchange.

In fact this is the key to the value of the “social” in Social Media. It is the opportunity to inspire and build the relationships that once grounded customer/company loyalties in other commerce eras. Once it was the talk at the small town storefront, then it became the salesman at the door, or the dealership. then the spokesman on the television. The Social Media channel, and the digital spaces of donation that are related to it, are specific compliments to the now more removed and quickened means of commerce today. The chance is to engage user status in a new and vital way, through donation.

Add to the Gift Economy Conversation

I’ve been putting short notes on Gift Economy and tracking conversations under the hashtag: #Gifteco. Feel free to add to it with your own thoughts.

pennies, and more luxury items – gift economy spaces

The Mystery Powers of the Extra Penny Dish

I’m sure that the Penny Dish is something that deserves a rather long post in the discussion of everyday Gift Economy marketing situations, but some off of the top of the head thoughts are going to have to do. While I’ve been ruminating on Gifteco lately, on the back burner most of the time, the Penny Dish has been tugging gently on me. There is something about this dish that really speaks to several aspects about Gifteco Logic in marketing that I am interested in. I’ll run through a few in no particular order.

  • It is an example of Gift Economy that occurs in explicit market contexts – in fact involves the essential symbol of that context, currency.
  • Surely the spread of this dish and loyalty to it is an enormous surprise – Gifteco spaces are capable of unexpected results.
  • I have probably never actually taken a penny, though I contribute to these dishes regularly – their explicitly stated function does not necessarily equate to what they “mean”.
  • They proliferated in a coin which already was devalued in terms of use. Putting quarters or even dimes in there feels wrong – spaces of giving have parameters (Lisa Thorell @Lisat2 pointed this out to me.)
  • The penny donations seem to exist in specific contrast to – even in terms of position – the register actions they sit beside. They negate the exactitude that just occurred.  Think about the difference in emotion if the clerk rang up the price $0.03 over, and the 3 pennies you might drop in the dish.

I feel that the temptation when thinking about giving and marketing is to concentrate on the “gift” idea, which could involve thinking “Well, just what could I give? A discount? Something free? A smile? What will inspire this other way of thinking and doing from my customers? I don’t believe that this is necessarily the most productive thought. What is it that compels me to drop my extra pennies in that dish? What is the Gift that I am reciprocating? I believe it is the gift of the space itself…the dish. The presence of pennies in the dish also is a factor of course, evidence that this is a custom that others have invested in, and the sense that we are joining an endless chain of such donations. But it seems more that it is about how the retailer has opened up an alternate space, a place where something can happen that is in excess of the precise price/commodity exchange that just occurred.

Important to this penny drop off is the symbolism of excess, the way that customer who very well might have thought about the price of some item with calculation, is now invited to symbolically and ritually act with surplus. And in doing this they indicate – I believe – that the relationship between themselves and the shop is more than just as purchase occasion. A real and mental surplus is created out of literally nothing: to be poetic about it, the empty space of the dish opens up the nil space of the exact equivalence of price and commodity exchanged.

It seems important that this penny dish remains pure. Charities attempt extra change deposits, but these are not the same spaces. What seems significant is that a penny can be given OR taken. What this indicates to my eye is that “nobody” gets these pennies. They are – in a primitive sense – donated to the spirit of the transaction itself, an alter to the Unnamed God of mutuality.

What is compelling to me is that in digital realms spaces are capable of being made with very little capital or elbow-grease. In 5 minutes a wp blog is up. The challenge in social media marketing, I believe, is that of the penny jar. It is to carve out the reciprocally coded donation spaces that inspire that symbolism of personal and community excess. And how these donation zones are designed seems to be something of an art. How proximate are they to be to commerce? Once we realize that people have a desire and even a need to indicate their own surplus, to symbolize their own a + b ≠ b + a how do we harvest that: not for profit, but for the creation of the meaningfulness of profit.

For this to happen, the consumer and proprietor come together. I have surplus – I toss in pennies because I have “extra” – and I join you who also has surplus – you have just made a profit on our exchange. We are of a kind together. This very same thing occurs in creative contexts, or problem solving contexts. Members in contribution feel buoyed by the surplus of others (or the group) when they themselves have been given the space in which to have displayed their own surplus: we are of a kind together. The reason we don’t have to be exact about things is because we both, we all are surplus folks…again, the beer buying metaphor.

The penny dish does not take into account the often significant factor of status change, and agonistic giving. But it is a beginning, something that reminds us that the biggest donation a business can make might be the space for donations.

Reading a Little gifteco Lit

Thanks to Stan Phelps (@9INCHmarketing) who has pointed the way towards additional writers/speakers who have brought Gift Economy thinking to social media and marketing questions, I’ve begun reading law professor Yochai Blencker’s Wealth of Networks, a near tomb on information economy, and the present forces that bear upon democratic and creative processes of wealth. It does not explicitly leverage Gift Economy logic – thus far – but it certainly sets a broad intellectual table upon which many Gift Economy questions can be answered. Ran across this nice introductory paragraph on the generalized and quite common presence of Gift Economy logic: the necessary fuzziness of accounting.

Across many cultures, generosity is understood as imposing a debt of obligation; but none of the precise amount of value given, the precise nature of the debt to be repaid, or the date of repayment need necessarily be specified.Actions enter into a cloud of goodwill or membership, out of which each agent can understand him- or herself as being entitled to a certain flow of dependencies or benefits in exchange for continued cooperative behavior.This may be an ongoing relationship between two people, a small group like a family or group of friends, and up to a general level of generosity among strangers that makes for a decent society. The point is that social exchange does not require defining, for example, “I will lend you my car and help you move these five boxes on Monday, and in exchange you will feed my fish next July,” in the same way that the following would: “I will move five boxes on Tuesday for $100, six boxes for $120.” This does not mean that social systems are cost free—far from it. They require tremendous investment, acculturation, and maintenance. This is true in this case every bit as much as it is true for markets or states. Once functional, however, social exchanges require less information crispness at the margin.

– The Networked Information Economy p11o

lessons from native americans and others

I don’t really have time to blog post, but am moved to think by and recommend the talk  What Digital Tribes can Learn from Native Americans. Super discussion focused in part on drawing from what some might feel are “real” tribe examples in order to inform what digital tribes are. Among the speakers Allison Aldridge-Saur (@aldsaur) pulls out several aspects such as ritual, leadership and name-giving, things she has gleaned from her own experience of being a member of a Native American Indian tribe.

As I listened I felt that the concepts/universals of “ritual” and “leadership” were missing an essential piece of the puzzle, and that is the logic of Gift Economy structures which may help negotiate issues of hierarchy or community building. Here is a modified version of the deck.ly tweet I sent as a note, but then decided to pull back and expand to this blog post – this is how blogs work right now for me, places where an idea can breathe.

@aldsaur Still listening to your wshop on Tribes. a note: I think what fleshes out your focus on ritual is that ritual allows us to relocate the places/occasions of repeat reciprocity. Leaders are only those capable of regularly displaying the surplus (gift giving) that drives the ideal example of non-exact repayment, the “gifting” binds the community in positive unpayable debt.#DgtlTribe #usguys

What do I mean by this? Let us assume as a hypothetical starting point that much of what binds tribes in the abstract – whether they be anthropologically recognized native tribes or analogically digital tribes – is a Gift Economy logic, creating a space for gift contesting and status building in the production of a community. If it is the case that many tribal structures are governed by Gift Economy logic (GEL) the two aspects of ritual and leadership become for me a little more clear. Ritual is a way of encoding and compassing occasions of gift exchange reciprocity. This is the “friendly” and unequal donation of valued items (info, yes) which help establish status via the display of surplus, the very unequal exchange that binds the community together through unpayable obligation, positive debt. Ritual allows members to repeat and locate this fundamental continuous act, and thereby re-instantiate the community and their place in it over and over, even down to the level of the gesture – Allison mentions the example of offering #coffee to other #usguys hashtag members on Twitter, a worthy real-world digital illustration.

Where leaders come in – and I part with Allison somewhat in this area I think, especially when thinking about the importance of sovereign-ness, but I’m not sure – these are people who have achieved (or inherited) the status of Gift Givers that more or less regularly symbolize the surplus and donation that secures the bonds of unequal exchange. Leaders indicate ideal action. But the degree of this indication, and the need for a cadre or singularity of such an example (individual or even group name sovereignty) in my mind does not have to be so localized. In the digital realm, what is new is the transient nature of forms in a communication of value, the way that people carry with them between media, between tribes, the history of those micro communities, marrying their future to even newer and different tribes. The hyper-tribe experience.

Strongly recommend the talk. Just put it on in the background like the radio playing, and let the ideas trickle in. Also recommend, as I have to Allison, David Graeber’s book on a theory of value informed by Gift Economy cultures.

Check out Allison’s blog too.

blogging is voice gifting

social media as gift giving, potlash

The Gifts of Voice-giving

I’m working on how to present to a new client crew the “how” of blogging. All of social media involves something that in the past I’ve suspected is best described as a Gift Economy “social media is like buying beers: the gift economy in social media” – (as opposed to a strict quid pro quo equality market economy). In Gift Economies the donor achieves status by sharing her or his status, i.e. wealth. This can be money, food, knowledge, symbolic powers of any kind. And the recipient takes on a mysteriously strong, never exactly repayable, bond of obligation through the receipt of this donation.

This is how social media works, to a rather pronounced degree I believe. And there are two things that are donated. At one level the donation is one’s – or a company’s – resources to the site as a contribution (be it Twitter, or blogging, or Facebook) making those resources available to others as readers. This is the aspect that most explicitly is thought of as “sharing”. These can be anything from points of view, to inside information, to the power to entertain. But additionally, in a second turn, one donates the platform of the site itself.  That is you donate the authority of your voice, your brand name, to whomever you quote, or highlight, or forward. And as such you donate your audience as well.

And so blogging is like this. It is about establishing these two levels of donation. The first is a vertical donation to the readers, however modest the wealth is in the content, and here the truism “content is King” works. The second is a more horizontal donation in the sense that a space, an authorized space, is offered up to others who inhabit it, conferring importance to every comment and hosted piece of content derived from somewhere else. This double sense of donation is what grounds blogging. The one that is often systematically less thought about is the second one, the way in which a generated space is offered to others, encouraging them to contribute to it as well. In this respect your site lifts up and propels others through its donation, and this is reciprocated in turn, through a sense of mutual investment.

When you comment on someone else’s blog post, you donate your little bit of status to their site.

When you quote a blog post in your own content, sharing it with your readers, you do the same.

When you host comments, and interact with them, your site offers itself to a sociability, a place for something to happen.