According to Burning Man founder Larry Harvey, the difference between a market and a gift economy is that the former is based on scarcity while the latter is based on abundance. And he says a gift economy fosters what Robert Putnam called ‘social
capital’, that is, it forms connections between people.
Nett is a technology magazine targeted at Australian small and medium businesses, although I think this short introduction to the gift economy is as a good as any. I like the focus on scarcity versus abundance in the quote above. Some of you might realise that the idea of the gift economy is important in social media (which I suppose is why this topic popped up in Nett magazine).
However, I think the concept of scarcity versus abundance can also help with understanding how to apply social computing successfully inside the enterprise. This has less to do with building social capital and more to do with adopting an attitude that ‘bits’ are plentiful and a resource to be used, not constrained – it also means you can afford to fail. Obviously it follows that if you adopt an IT abundance strategy, you’ll need the right systems to support an IT abundance approach.
Social capital inside organisations is still important too, but the ecosystem of public good is different from the dynamics of the closed “internal organisational good” ecosystem. You can support that internal gift economy with an abundance approach to IT, which is how you build internal social capital.