Media and communication

Flattr XII: Is Flattr like tipping?

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When the entrepreneurial culture helped spread Internet to the community through commercialization of the network with e-commerce and tolled content such as digital magazine subscriptions, the gift culture of the hackers and its values ​​persisted to exist on the Internet in parallel (Castells 2001). We have seen high reputation among peers and the belief in free digital content in the previous posted example of the Piracy movement. But what happens to Mauss (1997) theory of reciprocity on which gift culture rests, if the digital world does not give the sensor enough quantifiable reward or return? If the creator has written a book as a full time job, he or she might demand more in return than high reputation among peers, and may need something more tangible back, especially in a capitalist culture where it takes money to pay rent, for food to be purchased and so on. This is how we could understand how the digital gift culture has led to a network such as Flattr.

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First, the network must maintain the history of the Internet as a gift economy by taking advantage of the feeling of giving voluntarily rather than as a market to pay a fixed price. Second, Flattr needs to offer the creator a more hands-on reciprocity that is felt in our capitalist culture, which means capital in the form of money. We may be able to compare with the current norm around tipping, that is, to give extra money to someone who has performed a service or selling a product when the customer wants to show extra gratitude or appreciation. In the North American culture tipping is often included in the worker’s wage as a way to let the customer using the service account for a portion of the wage’s cost and not just the employer. Flattr can thus be thought to have developed the gift culture and modernized it for the digital world.

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On the other hand, the comparison between Flattr and tipping might indicate that the service acts as a reward instead of a form of payment. Flattring is instead a symbolic gesture more than payment in the traditional sense because the members do not have to give, but choose to give, just like a tip after for instance a popular meal at a restaurant. With this perspective, Flattr has not presented any alternative form of payment, but simply relay a norm of how we reward socially in capitalist society.

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