Social networks as evolutionary game theory

in the Financial Times: “FT Alphaville has been taking a closer look at the collaborative economy, and noting the stellar growth this mysterious sector has been experiencing of late.

An important question to consider, however, is to what degree is this growth being driven by a genuine rise in reciprocity and altruism in the economy — or to what degree is this just the result of natural opportunism…

Which begs the question why should anyone put a free good out there for the taking anyway? And why is it that in most collaborative models there are very few examples of people abusing the system?

With respects to the free issue, internet pioneer Jaron Lanier believes this is because there isn’t really any such thing as free at all. What appears free is usually a veiled reciprocity or exploitation in disguise….

Lanier controversially believes users should be paid for that contribution. But in doing so we would argue that he forgets that the relationship Facebook has with its users is in fact much more reciprocal than exploitative. Users get a free platform, Facebook gets their data.

What’s more, as the BBC’s tech expert Bill Thompson has commented before, user content doesn’t really have much value on its own. It is only when that data is pooled together on a massive scale which allows the economies of scale to make sense. At least in a way that “the system” feels keen to reward. It is not independent data that has value, it is networked data that the system is demanding. Consequently, there is possibly some form of social benefit associated with contributing data to the platform, which is yet to be recognised….

A rise in collaboration, however, suggests there is more chance of personal survival if everyone collaborates together (and does not cheat the system). There is less incentive to cheat the system. In the current human economy context then, has collaboration ended up being the best pay-off for all ?

And in that context has social media, big data and the rise of networked communities simply encouraged participants in the universal survival game of prisoner’s dilemma to take the option that’s best for all?

We obviously have no idea if that’s the case, but it seems a useful thought experiment for us all to run through.”

 

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