Towards an Eclectic Theory of the Internet Commons

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Essay: Hofmokl, Justyna. 2008. "Towards an Eclectic Theory of the Internet Commons." Presented at "Governing Shared Resources: Connecting Local Experience to Global Challenges," 12th Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons, Cheltenham, England, July 14-18, 2008.

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"Recent developments in communications technologies and, in particular, the advent of the Internet and its widespread applications in all spheres of human activity, have posed a serious challenge to the mainstream neo-institutional theory of the commons (common goods) and, especially, common pool resources theory (CPR). Although the term new commons has been coined to describe a new area of study, previous attempts to analyze Internet goods within the framework of CPR theory have not been successful, as they have not been able to capture the important new characteristics of the Internet commons. Based upon an empirical analysis of over 20 Internet goods, the current author proves that, basically, Internet goods do not fall within the common pool category of goods. In addition to the key characteristics used so far within mainstream theory - excludability and substractability, other attributes such as sharing potential, joint use in production rather than in consumption only, and non-hierarchical governance of production definitely are relevant, and should be included in any analysis of Internet commons.

"This analysis has proven that the neoinstitutional approach retains its explanatory power with respect to the Internet commons, especially by emphasizing the path-dependent evolution of the Internet and the role of informal and formal rules shaping its operating environment. At the same time, it does not capture the direct impact of major breakthroughs in information and telecommunication technologies (ICT) on the Internet commons.

"The proposed eclectic framework, one which addresses the specific features of Internet goods, allows to grasp the full complexity of the Internet commons. It integrates new concepts developed in various disciplines of social sciences (economics, sociology, history, anthropology) with the mainstream theory of the commons, developed from the neo- institutional perspective. Among those new concepts and theories, the most important are general purpose technologies (GPT), network externalities, positive free riding, the concept of shareable goods, the architecture of participation, peer production, and the gift economy." (


International Journal of the Commons Vol 4, No 1 (2010) [1]

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