Monday, 24 September 2007

The Gift...

Dalinian Bing and I met up as a result of the planned IBM strike. I mentioned during our chat, that the SLLU is in the process of creating a freebie shop.Coincidentally it turns out she had written this article and it dovetails fantastically with the philosophy SLLU are trying to promote in Secondlife with the freebie store. Dalinian wrote the article, "Partly for newbies, who dash around asking "How can I get L$s???" and "Where can I get a job??? The other motivation was to challenge folks' idee fixe that SL 'must' be like RL, financially, and that appreciating the Gift Economy aspects of SL by experience, might start changing their economic relations IRL."

“A Gift Economy for Second Life”

Photos by Dalinian Bing and Plot Tracer, article by Dalinian Bing.

The gift economy idea seems very well suited to Second Life, in that it should allow all residents to enjoy the widest possible range of useful, artistic and fun items, from Animations to Textures, avatars to zebras, collaborative artworks to cubic zirconia, Alfa Romeos to Omega watches. [1] And the social benefits come as a free added bonus, from the satisfaction of donating time, attention and creativity to the community, via the encouragement of international cooperative collaboration and solidarity, to the money-free stress-free circulation of free-to-all items.

"The first step toward a sustainable sense of success is taking pride in the value of our contributions to others rather than taking pride in the value of our possessions."

Gifford Pinchot [2]

Many of the limitations of first life gift economies arise because the 'cost' of duplicating a useful item has usually been around the same as creating the original item. For instance, the labour and materials that go into making another chair like the one you just finished making are pretty much identical. But technological advances (especially in information technology) mean that some item duplication costs are falling rapidly, often to a trivial amount. For instance, the quantity of labour time invested in projects like Linux or OpenOffice software is huge, but the copy you have on your computer's hard disc probably 'cost' no more than the price of a DVD-R or the time needed to download it from the web.

Making a copy of a useful, artistic or fun item in Second Life is simple, easy and 'cost' free to the residents of Second Life -- copy-and-paste inside your Inventory, or drag from your Inventory and drop on another resident's avatar (or on the 'Drop inventory item here' box in their Profile). And in principle, making any item as free to copy as possible is simple and easy to do too: just make sure the item and each of its component items have three Properties boxes ticked: 'Allow anyone to copy', 'Next owner can: Copy' and 'Next owner can: Resell/Give away'. And I highly recommend the socially creative benefits of ticking the 'Next owner can: Modify' box as well -- to paraphrase Isaac Newton, "If I have created further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants".

"Let's all change the world in SL and RL by helping each other!"

Brett Dumont [3]

Gift Economies in First Life: Three Examples

> Health care provision -- blood banks and organ donation systems

> Regiving networks -- such as the Freecycle Network: "a grassroots movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns" [4]

> Parties -- small-scale, temporary gift economies, where food, drinks, entertainment and a gathering place are provided freely, with all party goers making their own contribution

Information Gift Economies in First Life: Three Examples

> Scientific research -- where scientists produce research papers and give them away through journals and conferences

> Wikipedia -- the web-based collaborative encyclopedia, constructed entirely out of gifts, which gives information freely

> Open-source software -- a community where programmers make their source code available, allowing anyone to copy and modify/improve the code (with obvious parallels to scripting in Second Life, and modify/copy/transfer items)

"Labor should not be sold like merchandise but offered as a gift to the community."

Che Guevara [5]

Gift Economies in Second Life: Seven Examples

> Freebies -- useful, artistic or fun items, freely given to the community of all residents, freely distributed between friends and by freebie outlets; try [Search] > Places tab > 'freebies' and Groups tab > 'freebies'

> Help groups -- where experienced residents volunteer time and attention to help others, especially newbies; for examples, try [Search] > Groups tab > 'help'

> Exchange groups -- where members freely give useful items to those who ask for them, and get them too; for example, 'Animation Exchange', 'Builders Exchange', 'Sculptie Exchange', 'Texture Exchange'

> Education groups -- dedicated to help residents learn more about the creative skills in Second Life; for example, 'Linden Script Tutorial Group', 'Second Life Learning'

> Tutorials and classes -- where residents experienced in particular aspects of Second Life (such as building, scripting, texturing) volunteer time and attention to teach others; for examples, try [Search] > Places tab > 'tutorials' and 'classes' and [Search] > Events tab > Category: Education (leave the Name/Desc: field empty and click on the [Search] button)

> Second Life Volunteer Program -- by which experienced residents volunteer time and attention to mentor others; see

> Open-source scripting and building -- where residents give freely of their skills, so that the whole Second Life community may benefit; usually done by including explicit copyleft statements [6] in accompanying Readme files or script comments, such as 'public domain', 'free to copy', or by reference to the GPL (GNU General Public License) [7] or a Creative Commons share-alike license. [8]

"In many cases information gains rather than loses value through sharing. While the [UD$ or L$] exchange economy may have been appropriate for the industrial age, the gift economy is coming back as we enter the information age."

Gifford Pinchot [9]

Unfortunately, for most new residents, the most likely first impression of Second Life is that it is like a microcosm of the entrepreneurial free-market money-based exchange economy, much beloved by the capitalist ruling classes and their right-wing politicians in first life. So instead of the free association of independent creators, the free production and circulation of free useful, artistic and fun items, and the social solidarity that a gift economy would encourage, most residents will take for granted that their Second Life will be saddled with the stresses that citizens suffer in first life within decadent capitalist economies: where can I get L$s?; where can I get a job, so I can work to earn a living wage?; how can I balance my income with my expenditure?; where can I get credit or a loan?; where am I going to live?; how will I ever afford to pay the rent?; will I get kicked out by the landlord?; how will I ever save enough L$s to buy land?; why is everything I want so expensive?; how can I protect my intellectual property rights?; why are so many environments blighted by large scale advertising?; why is there so much competition and so little cooperative collaboration?; how will I ever get enough L$s to buy all the possessions I need?; is being a worker in the sex industry my best option?; why am I being ripped off by scammers and snake oil salespeople?; is that the best way to get L$s?; how can I trust any other resident not to try ripping me off?; just why has the dog-eat-dog, 'every resident for themselves and the devil take the hindmost!' attitude I have to overcome daily in first life been imported into Second Life?

"To be clever enough to get a great deal of money, one must be stupid enough to want it."

George Bernard Shaw (or possibly G. K. Chesterton)

"As for being discontented, a man who would not be discontented with such surroundings and such a low mode of life would be a perfect brute. Disobedience, in the eyes of any one who has read history, is man's original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion.”

Oscar Wilde [10]

Phew! Thankfully, there are also plenty of residents who have also seen through the multiple downsides of capitalist-mimicry in Second Life, or there wouldn't be such a huge range of useful, artistic and funny freebies already in circulation; so much social solidarity between friends and within groups; so much internationalism, transcending national and linguistic barriers with real-time translators like Babbler; so many good examples of gift economies in Second Life already; and just so many people really deriving fulfillment, enjoying free association, and actually having loads of fun despite of, rather than because of, the 'official' economy -- all without holding down a job, paying rent, balancing their budget, or chasing after the accumulation of ephemeral and virtual land, possessions and L$s.

"The decentralization of [peer-production] processes underlies agents’ capacity to retain a great degree of individual autonomy within the social interaction. This autonomy — to choose to participate, to select opportunities for action, and to act when the participant wishes and in the fashion that she chooses — is central to the informational advantage of peer-production efforts over firms."

Yochai Benkler [11]

I hope this goes some way to explaining why all the items I create in Second Life will be given away for free, and why I'll have as little to do with the 'official' economy as I possibly can. And why I'm really having a fulfilling, enjoyable, and fun-filled Second Life. I'd like to hope that if you can also see the great advantages of cooperating in a stress-free collaborative gift economy, rather than colluding with a stressful competitive 'official' economy, you'll maybe get involved with the 'Gift Economies in Second Life: Seven Examples' noted above, and freely donate your time, attention and modify/copy/transfer creations to our wonderful international community.

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopia."

Oscar Wilde [12]

Share & enjoy, peace & love

Dalinian Bing

Comments & corrections, contradictions & criticisms, always welcome by IM or notecard.


[1] The gift economy idea -- see, for example:

[2] Gifford Pinchot, 'The Gift Economy':

[3] Brett Dumont, founder of the 'Help People!' group in Second Life

[4] Freecycle Network: See also:

[5] Cited in Lewis Hyde, 'The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property', 1983

[6] Copyleft statements:

[7] GNU General Public License:

[8] Share-alike license:

[9] Gifford Pinchot, idem

[10] Oscar Wilde, 'The Soul of Man Under Socialism',1891:

[11] Yochai Benkler, ' "Sharing Nicely": On shareable goods and the emergence of sharing as a modality of economic production':

[12] Oscar Wilde, idem


All the authors mentioned in NOTES above, Wikipedia, Aceius Hax for proofreading


'A Gift Economy Readme' is free to all to modify, copy and transfer to others under the Creative Commons "Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0" copyleft license:

...where Attribution = 'Original by Dalinian Bing'

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1 comment:

any1 Gynoid said...

Hiya Plot... gr8 article... Dalrinian Bing's "A Gift Economy for SL"... I'm 100% on ur wavelength. In fact I did a Peace Freebies kit for World Peace Now.... and I wud like to contribute it 2 ur SLLU Freebies Store.... free Peace guitars, flowers, drinkz, and stuff. I will send it 2u and Dalrinian. Cheers Loves! Give HELL to the corporate BASTARD BULLY BOYZ! ROCK ON! XOXO