I was first introduced to the concept of the gift economy and pay it forward many years ago when I was the community builder for a first generation online network for artists, called ArtsWire. Here's the definition from wikipedia:
A gift economy is a social theory in which goods and services are given without any explicit agreement for immediate or future expectations. Typically, a gift economy occurs in a culture or subculture that emphasizes social or intangible rewards for solidarity and generosity: karma, honor, loyalty or other forms of gratitude. In some cases, simultaneous or recurring giving serves to circulate and redistribute valuables within a community. This can be considered a form of reciprocal altruism. Sometimes there is an implicit expectation of the return of comparable goods or services, political support, or the gift being later passed on to a third party. However, in what is considered to be in the true spirit of gift economics, many times giving is done without any expectation of reciprocity.
I observed this happening when members of the online community started to give free technical assistance without any expectation of being paid or rewarded. There is a history of virtual gift giving. Tara Hunt has some great examples and thinking in this post. (And, if you want a more indepth exploration of this topic - definitely order her book which will be published in April and is called the Whuffie Factor)
Some are predicting that with the bad economy will come the rise of the gift economy and with the holidays just around the season, I rather give gifts to charity or help people realize their dreams. So, the irony of when I won $500 shopping spree from Bill Me Later at the BlogHer Conference in Boston. Although I not a big shopper, it is convenient not to have to use a credit card. But, what would I buy?
Okay, I did use some of it for my car rental while I was at Hawaii Podcamp and Social Media Club Workshop in Hawaii last month. But, I'm using the rest to purchase gifts or random acts of kindness. I sent a coffee gift card to Alex Steed to help ower his Millennials Changing America project. He is currently 60% towards his goal - so I also donated a small amount.
Then I realized, wow, I could play one of my Akoha mission cards. Austin Hill, founder, was kind enough to send me a box of Akoha decks. I've been giving them out to people in workshops and playing the game online. Akoha is a new type of “social reality game” inspired by the idea of pay it forward where players play real-world missions that can be tracked online. Missions are simple activities that are “played forward” from person to another and might include things like giving away a book, or giving someone a gift.
Yesterday, my kids came running into the office with a big box from Canada that said it contained documents and toy. The toy turned out to be a fairy godmother crown and latter telling me that I was granted Fairy Godmother Status from DreamBank, a new model for gift giving. It's sort of cool - you create a page with your "dream" and then let your friends and family know - and they can help fund your dream. Some dreams include gifts to charities, others are don't.
The package also came with $20 voucher where I could fund my own dream or support someone else's. Well, had to to support NetChick because I met her Gnomedex. Chris and Ponzi and the Gnomedex community has been so supportive of Cambodia, that I thought it might be a nice way to pay it back to someone from that community.
How will you pay it for forward or participate in the gift economy this holiday season?