Yochai Benkler

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The world's fastest supercomputer and the second-largest commuter transportation system in the United States function on a resource- management model that is not well specified in contemporary economics. Both SETI@home, a distributed computing platform involving the computers of over four million volunteers, and carpooling, which accounts for roughly one-sixth of commuting trips in the United States, rely on social relations and an ethic of sharing, rather than on a price system, to mobilize and allocate resources. Yet they coexist with, and outperform, price-based and government-funded systems that offer substitutable functionality. Neither practice involves public goods, network goods, or any other currently defined category of economically "quirky" goods as either inputs or outputs. PCs and automobiles are privately owned, rival goods, with no obvious demand-side positive returns to scale when used for distributed computing or carpooling. The sharing practices that have evolved around them are not limited to tightly knit communities of repeat players who know each other well and interact across many contexts. They represent instances where social sharing is either utterly impersonal or occurs among loosely affiliated individuals who engage in social practices that involve contributions of the capacity of their private goods in patterns that combine to form large-scale and effective systems for provisioning goods, services, and resources.

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