Indebtedness and Reciprocity in Local Online Exchange


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Paper presentation at CSCW 2013 in San Antonio, Texas, USA. Collaborative research by Airi Lampinen, Vilma Lehtinen, Coye Cheshire & Emmi Suhonen. View full paper at:

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  • The sharing economy / collaborative consumption (not just the likes of sharetribe & freecycle, but also things like couchsurfing & airbnb) – allowing people to connect and make exchanges that are valuable for them. More broadly: Encouraging and sustaining participation is a central challenge for different systems, regardless of whether they function online, offline, or in online-offline hybrid forms
  • Generalized exchange = acts of indirect reciprocity in the form of either collective goods or networks of indirect gifts and favors
  • Here just the core concepts + a little background: social scientists have looked at this extensively in the past: Two classic examples include Kula Ring (indirect reciprocity of symbolic crafts and jewelry among Trobriand Islanders) and Guanxi (personal networks of influence in Chinese society) Generalized exchange = acts of indirect reciprocity in the form of either collective goods or networks of indirect gifts and favors the norm of reciprocity: the empirical observation that individuals tend to feel a sense of responsibility after someone provides a gift or another act of kindness. People tend to reciprocate the kind acts of others, and non-reciprocated actions can leave one with an uncomfortable sense of indebtedness—even if the original action or gift was unsolicited. An aversion to indebtedness can lead to positive effects on exchange (obligation leading to increased reciprocity), or negative effects (exchange partners may be unwilling to accept gifts or help, especially if one does not expect to be capable of reciprocation in the future.)
  • … then getting more precise about what is the problem we are considering in this talk
  • In Kassi, individuals can engage in indirect exchange, as well as other forms of direct exchange. Kassi is a service in which users can lend, rent, give away and sell items, give and get help, or share rides with people nearby in geographically local contexts: Individuals connect online, but exchanges take place face-to-face
  • 49 distinct accounts of exchange processes using the Kassi service active, experienced participants: individuals who have given and/or received goods and/or services with other Kassi users at least once interview questions on participants’ to build a rich understanding about (1) how norms of exchange and reciprocity are interpreted and applied in the context of local online exchange, (2) ways to lessen uneasy feelings of indebtedness in indirect exchange processes. We interviewed six male and five female participants. Four participants created their accounts soon after Kassi’s open beta release in 2009. Another three used the service for 7 to 20 months. The final four used the service for less than 6 months. Most of the participants (N=7) were technology students in the age range from 21 to 27 who were introduced to Kassi through study-related activities. The exceptions were two students from other campuses, and a relatively older employee of the university. Finally, we interviewed one student from another university who originally found Kassi through a search engine.
  • Main results/tendencies – lead into the fact that we’ll next review 5 user behaviors that lessen the discomforts of indebtedness And then discuss implications for how to design for these interactions
  • backpack
  • On these three slides, I’m thinking we probably won’t need more text – just some good pictures as illustrations! the importance of matching similarity and status characteristics for combating feelings of indebtedness
  • publicly sharing experiences as recipients of gift exchange
  • Indebtedness and Reciprocity in Local Online Exchange

    1. 1. Indebtedness and Reciprocity in Local Online Exchange CSCW 2013, February 23 Airi Lampinen, Vilma Lehtinen, Coye Cheshire, & Emmi Suhonen @airi_
    2. 2. Why are reciprocity and feelings ofindebtedness important for CSCW? • Many popular and emerging online sharing and collaborative consumption systems allow people to engage in the social exchange of goods and services in local geographic settings. • Issues of reciprocity & indebtedness are core to social exchange – especially in indirect exchange where receiving is not contingent on giving. • We seek to understand how individuals interpret and respond to norms of indirect social exchange in order to better encourage and sustain participation.
    3. 3. Social Exchange in Online CommunitiesIndirect Exchange: A B HigherGeneralized Exchange Uncertainty(indirect reciprocity) CDirect Exchange: A BNegotiated Exchange Lower(direct reciprocity) 3rd Party Uncertainty
    4. 4. Social exchange is vital to socialinteraction, community, and solidarityThe norm of reciprocity “reciprocity can increase solidarity between exchange partners through either symbolic or communicative value over and above the instrumental value of the benefits provided” (Molm et al. 2007)Sense of Indebtedness “a state of tension having motivational properties such that the greater its magnitude, the greater will be the efforts to reduce it” (Greenberg and Shapiro, 1971)
    5. 5. Interpreting and responding tonorms of indirect social exchangein a local geographic community – How do individuals make sense of indirect reciprocity? – How do they understand how to make use of a novel system of online exchange? – What can we do as researchers, designers and practitioners to alleviate and address feelings of discomfort while facilitating ongoing exchange?
    6. 6. KassiA Local Online Exchange System Suhonen, E., Lampinen, A., Cheshire, C. & Antin, J. (2010) Everyday favors: a case study of a local online gift exchange system. GROUP 10
    7. 7. Case Study ofIndirect Non-Monetary Exchanges Individual interviews with active participants in the Kassi community at a large Finnish university Snapshot of Kassi Primary focal points for analysis: during the research period 1. Experiences and 4464 members perceptions of reciprocity 2243 weekly visits to site and indebtedness 2833 listings for offers and requests 2. User behaviors to lessen uneasy feelings of 11 semi-structured interviews indebtedness 49 focal accounts of indirect exchange
    8. 8. Primary Themes From User Descriptionsof Exchange Experiences So…how do users respond to feelings of indebtedness?
    9. 9. Lessening the Discomforts of Indebtedness:Offering small tokens of appreciation“I gave him a little cash for coffee so that alsomade me feel good that I at least somehow paidthe favor back to him. So then; I did not feel atall that I would have been a burden.”
    10. 10. Lessening the Discomforts of Indebtedness:Understanding & accepting the indirectnature of generalized exchange ”It feels like ‘okay, I can borrow this’. And then if someone needs, for instance, a hammer from me, I’ll lend it. That way we’ll be okay with the community.”
    11. 11. Lessening the Discomforts of Indebtedness:Managing expectationsFraming offers and requests carefully “Maybe it could have been even smoother if in the offer there would have been a mention of sharing the costs of gas”
    12. 12. Lessening the Discomforts of Indebtedness:Minimizing efforts neededin exchange processes “Yeah, there was then a little bit of a hassle, I had a lot of work and he was always busy in the evenings. But then, I took the attitude that he has to come and pick it up from me from here if he wants to borrow it”
    13. 13. Lessening the Discomforts of Indebtedness:Bartering and Exchangingfor a Third Party “I just said that I can keep an eye out for skates of his size and then there happened to be a pair [on offer].”
    14. 14. Implications I:Matching Similarity and StatusCharacteristics Individuals tend to accept support from those “of a kind they could themselves return on occasion.” (Homans, 1958)
    15. 15. Implications II:Highlighting the Value of Being aRecipientPrior work shows that individuals contribute more whenthey know the unique value of their contribution. However,recipients often do not recognize that they provide otherswith rewarding experiences by allowing contributors to behelpful, needed community members.
    16. 16. Implications III: Highlighting Exchange Processes, Not Just OutcomesShowcasing successful and less successfulexamples of exchange processes can helpdiffuse community norms in an organic way.
    17. 17. Conclusions • Encouraging and sustaining participation is a central challenge for different systems, regardless of whether they function online, offline, or in online-offline hybrid forms • The concepts of reciprocity and indebtedness can help us understand what makes participation challenging at times • The key is to redirect feelings of indebtedness towards positive, participatory outcomes rather than frustration, hesitation, and non-participation
    18. 18. Future Directions • Investigating paths of participation in local online exchange through log data analysis • Kassi is now known as Sharetribe, and the service is spreading out to neighborhoods, companies, and other types of communities – in various countriesAcknowledgementsThis work has been supported by the OtaSizzle and Possi research projects.We thank our colleagues Antti Oulasvirta, Suvi Silfverberg, and Eeva Raita,CSCW reviewers, as well as Juho Makkonen and Antti Virolainen from Sharetribe.
    19. 19. Photo credits: • /sizes/l/in/photostream/ • s/l/in/photostream/ • in/photostream/ • photostream/ • /in/photostream/ • /photostream/