Why do we share our hard work?

 Sharing is caring…or is it more selfish than that?

You’ve finally finished coding the software; it’s been months of late nights in the making. Now, what do you do with it?

Option 1 – Sell your work to a company for a tidy sum. They will go on to repackage and release it to their customers and clients.

Option 2 – Put your work online, completely free, and share it with the world.

“Irrational” is a term often used to describe someone who choose Option 2 (why give something away for free when you can sell it? Especially when you’ve worked so hard? Retailers don’t commission clothes and then hand them out for free! What are you thinking?!). Sharers, however, are not irrational. Sharers are not giving something for nothing.

The idea that an act can have the sole purpose of benefitting another at your own expense (known as “true altruism”), is a concept that many researchers believe to be incredibly rare. So why is there tens of billion dollars’ worth of free work on the internet? Why do people choose option Option 2?

Is the research wrong, and are people choosing Option 2 simply to help others?

Consider the following example:

A dog runs into a burning building to save a member of the family. 

The dog might love the family, might have bonded with them powerfully and irrevocably. However, on a neurological, chemical level, there is a more significant and solid reasoning for the dog’s action: he has learnt that the family provide him with food, ergo, save the family and continue being fed.

So, if we say that true altruism doesn’t factor into the decision to choose Option 2, and we know there is no financial gain, what are Option 2s getting?

  • Status

For fledglings in their industry (such as authors trying to break into general circulation) ‘elevation from obscurity’ is often cited as a reason for sharing their work online, for free, as it means more people will access it and potentially part with money at a later date.

For those already established within their industry, permitting work to become globally and freely accessible means a huge boost in their profile and the notoriety and value of their work. Just think of software engineers and their systems, scientists and data sets or poets and their poetry.

An offshoot result of this is long-term fiduciary gain – status means you can charge more money at a later date.

  • Network

Closely related to status, sharing with a community who can fully appreciate and value your work, not just a customer, means recognition for your work within your chosen field or community and forging of new connections in that field. This falls under ‘strategic sharing’ – selecting the sharing platform or community can mean that you forge important connections with audiences and potential collaborators.

  • Opportunities for collaboration

When work is shared with the right communities, it can be elevated to new levels and reach its full potential: Linux has been shared and collaborated on to become one of the most popular operating systems on the planet; Mozilla Firefox is the second biggest web browser on the planet; tens of thousands of readers access free e-books every day, and countless medical studies use publicly available datasets for analysis.

  • Information

As we saw in the last point, sharing is an opportunity to learn with the help of others, be it because others can identify errors or areas for improvement, or simply use your work in new and innovative ways. In addition to this, if set up appropriately, sharing work also provides Option 2s with an opportunity for invaluable free market research – who is accessing the product/service, for what purposes etc. all of which can be used to improve the work to a level at which it could make more money, later on.

  • A jump-start on the future

 “…the sharing economy is the biggest societal shift since the Industrial Revolution”. – Benita Matofska

In an upcoming article for Dialogue Matofska reveals that 73% of the world’s Millennials and nearly a third of all adults would rather access shared goods than buy them new.

Sharing, renting, swapping and collaborating are emerging as global trends, and Option 2s are ahead of the pack.

What do you think of sharing? What about sharing in the workplace? Join the discussion by commenting below, or contact us to participate in an upcoming feature on sharing culture.