The greatness of Free Riders, and why you should be proud to be one!

Free Riders?

Greetings my fellow students, I want to share a thought, a vision which I have been thinking about for a few days now. We all know the struggle of having “Free-riders” around (not the game;)), people who don’t contribute but still profit, people who only use what others are giving them. Since we were born we knew what free riders are, friends who use your marbles to win their own, friends who use your PlayStation to play GTA and students who are waiting on the social media for somebody else to share their summary. Overall, there is a very negative connotation to the word Free-riders. When we take a look at the actual definition we see that the Free riding theory is defined as the following:


In economics, the free rider problem refers to a situation where some individuals in a population either consume more than their fair share of a common resource, or pay less than their fair share of the cost of a common resource.”


When we extend this definition to the online there are some problems. Before we can go any further in this subject we have to take a look at a phenomenon called “Information Goods” (lecture 6 people, pay attention). Information Goods are goods which are valued for their information, not for the physical components of the good itself. So for example, you buy a book for the words in it instead of the paper and glue which physically makes the book. You can extend this meaning to the “new era” (I haven’t read a book in 7 years…) when you think about CD’s, DVD’s etc. But also more harder to visualize goods like software and video’s. But there is more, there are so called “online information goods”, information goods which are accessed through the internet and are accessible for the  masses. The best examples are Wikipedia, blogs and Khan Academy, which we have described in our Technology of the week assignment (reading tip, we will post it when it’s finished).

Exactly these new online information goods bring a new insight to the “free” part of free riders. For example, the rise of a platform like Wikipedia or even Khan, couldn’t be realized without these so-called free riders. Without these people who do not contribute but only “use” there wouldn’t be a stimuli to contribute in the first place. Why would you share your knowledge with the world when nobody is listening?  Also, without these people there wouldn’t be a stimuli for founders to contribute financially which makes free online information goods possible (for example, Wikipedia totally runs on funding, just like Khan Academy).

There is more, the free rider problem also provides resources for bloggers, search engines etc,  through revenue generated by advertising income. Again, without these free riders, the platforms wouldn’t sustain. Therefore I think that the definition of Online free riders should be changed to the following:

In the Online community, the free rider phenomenon refers to a situation where some individuals in a user group consume more than contribute, but create value by visiting the medium which facilitates the platform, therefore being indispensable”


What do you think? Should we respect free riders much more than they are in our minds? I think so..



Sources: (for the exteme gamers among us)



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