Whuffie

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See also: Gift Economy

A description of the mysterious reasonings behind why a person does work for free. It is the response to questions like:

  • Why does one shovel one's neighbor's walkway one winter?
  • Why does one email the author of a website to report a broken link?
  • Why does one add to a wiki?
  • Why pick up a piece of garbage on the street and throw it the trash?

The answers to these are "knowable" in a broad sense, thanks to research in psychology (mainly behaviorism). However, there are many subtle reasons which cannot be explained, as they are individual to each circumstance and participant.

  • Why add to a wiki? Because each small addition inspires others to add. The more little changes is the more influence there exists over the whole. Onesself adding a small amount of work will echo into the world and those efforts will come back threefold in the greater view of the wiki.
  • Why email the author of a website to report a broken link? To get the link changed. For good will, to help the next surfer not suffer the broken link. To help make a favorite website grow even better.
  • Why shovel one's neighbor's walkway one winter? Perhaps as a "thank you" for their having done it. Perhaps because one enjoys the experience of it, the workout or the environment.
  • Why pick up a piece of garbage on the street and throw it in the trash? Because one feels morally committed. Because it isn't that much effort for a worthwhile return.

There may be a common reasoning binding all these actions together, and that could be understood. However, there will always be unknown reasonings. There is an unknowable something behind such efforts which do not directly produce gain. This is Whuffie.


It's the great conundrum of the web.

  • Why do so many people do so much for free?
  • What do people get out of it?
Whuffie - that's what.

Coined by writer Cory Doctorow for his novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Whuffie embodies respect, karma, mad-props; call it what you will, the web runs on it.

(from http://www.guardian.co.uk/online/story/0,3605,867294,00.html)

...and read "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom".

you can download it at

http://www.craphound.com/down/download.php; it is released with a Creative Commons license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/1.0), kind of open source license for writings.

Or you can buy it here http://www.craphound.com/down/buy.php