I was invited to speak at the Provost’s Graduate Student Lecture series at Stony Brook University. Three PhD students are selected to present their research, which highlights some of the most promising scholarship being produced at Stony Brook. Thanks to Tim Moran and Arnout van de Rijt for nominating me.
Here is the abstract of the talk:
Why do people volunteer thousands of hours of free labor to create public goods online such as Wikipedia and open-source software? In this talk, I present evidence from a series of experiments designed to test the theory that in the absence of formal or material incentives, contributors’ efforts can be sustained through community recognition of work performed. According to this theory, there is a social solution to the problem of collective action, where individuals are believed to have a tendency to ‘free ride’ rather than contribute to the public good: groups reward individuals who work hard with status in the community, which in turn motivates additional effort, fostering a virtuous cycle of work and reward. Results from the experiments on Wikipedia’s editing community show that highly productive contributors who are given an informal award, or “Barnstar,” subsequently increase their workload by about 40% compared to a control group. These recipients also accumulate additional awards from third parties at a six-times higher rate than non-rewarded peers, suggesting that pro-social behavior can help sustain contributions to public goods by fostering a self-reinforcing dynamic. I conclude by calculating the surprising magnitude of additional volunteer labor that is generated from such pro-social behaviors.