On Free Riding
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… the idea of “free riding” is based on a couple of key 20th-century assumptions that just don’t apply to the online world. The first assumption is that the production of content is a net cost that must either be borne by the producer or compensated by consumers… participating in Wikipedia is a net positive experience for both readers and editors. We don’t need to “solve” the free rider problem because there are more than enough people out there for whom the act of contributing is its own reward.
The second problem with the “free riding” frame is that it fails to appreciate that the sheer scale of the Internet changes the nature of collective action problems… on Wikipedia—and a lot of other online content-creation efforts—the ratio of contributors to users just doesn’t matter. Because the marginal cost of copying and distributing content is very close to zero, institutions can get along just fine with arbitrarily high “free riding” rates.
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