MASTER’S THESIS ONLINE COOPERATION
Editor Pim Schaaf Master’s Thesis Sociology
Explaining seemingly altruistic online cooperation on Kiva.org
INTRODUCTION why study online cooperation This thesis is aimed on one aspect of the cyberspace, the web on which we by now interact daily with peers, coworkers, (potential) customers and so on. It REFERENCES aims to explain the emerging cooperation Smith, M. A. & Kollock, P. which, in its context, is surprising. “Given (1999). Communities in that online interaction is relatively anonyCyberspace. London, UK: Routledge. mous, that there is no central authority, and that it is difficult or impossible to impose monetary or physical sanctions on someone, it is striking that the Internet is not literally a war of all against all. For a student of social order, what needs to be explained is not the amount of conflict but the great amount of sharing and cooperation that does occur in online communities” (Kollock, 1999, emphasis added). From this point I can choose between a variety of aspects of online cooperation. The list includes:
• identity • incentives • reputation • motivations • costs • coordination • communities • public goods • structure • patterns of reciprocity and probably can be extended infinitely. I will have to choose one for the pragmatic reason of limited available time for research. However, the choice depends on more than just time. Equally important, if not more, are theoretical and social relevance and personal
“Sociologist are going to love the next 100 years.” (Dvorak, 1996 in Smith & Kollok, 1999)
interest. This brings me to the following approach to choice making. First off, I will shorten the list of aspects of online cooperation on the basis of my interests, leaving only what I want consider to pursue in research. Next I will apply a two pronged strategy through which I hope to extract the theoretically and socially relevant REFERENCES aspects. This strategy consists of two sepaOliver, P.E. & Marwell, G. rate tracks of research. One is theoretically (1985). A theory of critical focussed, on literature and theory. Through mass. I. Interdependence, this I try to create an up to date judgement of Group Heterogeneity, and the theoretical relevance of the aspects. The the Production of Collective other is empirically focussed, on organiza- Action. Amer. J. Sociol., 91(3), 522-556. tions and business concepts, web concepts specifically (for now limited to Kiva.org and discussed under ‘Interest’). Through this I try to get access to data, viable for research, at companies that take advantage of online cooperation. This, at the same time, will provide a measure of social relevance.
Goal I like a world in which we not merely take action for our own gain, but take into account the gain of others too and, if possible, prioritize that. That could be the basis for a solution for the global climate problems, for instance. This ideal of course is somewhat far fetched as a basis for this thesis, but I can shed some light on the choice of subject I make when I shorten the list of aspects of online cooperation on the basis of my interest only. What I am talking about here are social dilemmas. For example the so called public goods games in which what is produced (the good), through cooperation from (one or more) members of the public (a group of people), is shared equally among all members regardless their participation. Another example is the prisoner’s dilemma. The field of research that engages in theoriz-
“Much of the preliminary phase of theorizing involves locating oneself in a social/intellectual space rather than actually engaging ideas.” (Oliver and Marwell, 2001)
ing social dilemma’s is vast but mainly supported by computer-simulated experiments. Ultimately I would like to consider creating a game-like environment that emulates the experiments but within which real actors play. Realisticly though I think I should focus on testing existing middle-range theories on ‘real’ data (instead of computer generated data). REFERENCES For data I have contacted Kiva.org. A webTODO: Hanaki et al. site that leverages the internet to establish Axelrod, R. M. (1984). The loans for the poor. On this site, as a visitor/ Evolution of Cooperation. user, you can microfinance, starting from New York, NY: Basic Books. TODO etc. $25 loans, projects of the poor which are displayed. All that is needed is an act of cooperation from the user, specifically a monetary transfer, which over the course of $293 million in loans by 727,430 lenders gets reciprocated for 98.91% of these cases until date (this may include outstanding loans). These statistics show the success of Kiva.org.
Theoretical relevance Hanaki, Peterhansl, Dodds & Watts (2007, Watts earlier wrote the book Six Degrees of Seperation, 2003) review a variety of mechanisms by which prosocial behavior (cooperation) can arise. They specify the following (partial) list: • Repeated interactions (Axelrod, 1984) • Group selection (Boyd et al., 2003) and strong reciprocity (Bowles et al., 2003; Bowles and Gintis, 2004) • Altruism as an observable signal of (unobservable) fitness (Gintis et al., 2001) • Reinforcement via stochastic learning (Kim and Bearman, 1997; Macy and Flache, 2002), social networks (Coleman, 1988), or formal organizations (Bendor and Mookherjee, 1987)
• In public goods games: the specific shape of the production function (Oliver and Marwell, 1985) - the correlation between the resources, what is given to achieve public good, and the achievement of that public good. All these, they reflect, “focus exclusively on an individual’s choice of actions with respect to their interaction partners, treating the choice of partneres - the individual’s social network - as exogenous.” so they move on to model cooperation in evolving social networks. For this thesis these lists provide choices that will eventually determine how I view the individual (from what context/framework/perspective) and if and how I incorporate the individual’s network.
REFERENCES Oliver, P.E. & Marwell, G. (1985). A theory of critical mass. I. Interdependence, Group Heterogeneity, and the Production of Collective Action. Amer. J. Sociol., 91(3), 522-556.
RESEARCH QUESTION what needs to be explained The choice is still quite random but I have chosen to focus on the costs of online cooperation in the following research question and accompanying subquestions.
Research question [Dutch] Welke invloed heeft de kostenstructuur op Kiva.org op de samenwerking en hoe kan dit worden verklaard?
Subquestions (theoretical) [Dutch] • • •
Wat wordt bedoeld met de kostenstructuur? Wat wordt verstaan onder samenwerken (en niet samenwerken)? Welke verklaringen biedt de sociologische literatuur voor relaties tussen kostenstructuur en al dan niet samenwerken?
Subquestions (empirical) [Dutch] •
Welke invloed heeft de kostenstructuur op de samenwerking op Kiva.org?
2 theories of cooperation, each explained and applied in half a minute
REPEATED INTERACTIONS the 30-second theory A repeated game, or iterated 3-SECOND TRASH As Darwinians, we start pessimistically by assuming deep selfishness. And yet from such warped beginnings, something can come that is close to amicable brotherhood and sisterhood. (Dawkins, in Axelrod, 2007).
game, is a game in which the players might meet again after the base game is played one or more times. This is an important basis RELATED THEORIES on which cooperation can emerge because see also “the future can cast a shadow back upon the STRONG RECIPROCITY present and thereby affect the current stra- (forthcoming) tegic situation” (Axelrod, 1984). The most clear-cut form of this situation is the iterated REFERENCES prisoner’s dilemma. “This game allows the Axelrod, R. M. (2007). The players to achieve mutual gains from cooper- Evolution of Cooperation. New York, NY: Basic Books. ation, but it also allows for the possibility that one player will exploit the other, or the possibility that neither will cooperate. As in most realistic situations, the players do not have strictly opposing interests.” Axelrod found out that the best strategy to play in this game by, is the so called TIT-FOR-TAT strategy in which the player starts with an unconditional act of cooperation and after that reciprocates the response.
On Kiva.org When lending through Kiva.org there is no direct communication with the third world entrepreneur that receives the loan nor are there any implications that there ever will be. Succes stories of Kiva.org do mention entrepreneurs that build up their business in a third world country by succesively taking loans. Their success might be related to the theoretical possibilites that repeated interac- “When should a person cooperate, tions offer. and when should a person be selfish, in an ongoing interaction with another person?” (Axelrod, 1984)
> Repeated interactions are exactly why you donâ€™t bite the hand that feeds you.
COSTLY SIGNALING the 30-second theory Costly signaling is one of the 3-SECOND TRASH Theories of costly signaling attempt to account for a different, perhaps more fundamental question: Why do individuals indirectly reciprocate? What do people see in prosociality that prompts them to offer material rewards to “good citizens?”. (Willer, 2009)
theories that can explain rational cooperation in public goods games. The theory of costly signaling encompasses the idea that RELATED THEORIES signaling can enable cooperative interac- see also tion. In their game-theoretic model Gintis, IMAGE SCORING Smith and Bowles (2001) incorporate the (forthcoming) idea that “cooperative behavior indicates the underlying quality of the signaler, elicit- REFERENCES ing a response from observers that can be Gintis, H., Smith, E.A. & mutually beneficial”. They do this for group Bowles, S. (2001). Costly signaling and cooperation. interaction (many-to-many) in which “no J. theor. Biol. 213, 103-119. repeated or assortative interactions are involved”. They “show that honest signaling Willer, R. (2009), A status of underlying quality by providing a public theory of collective action, good to group members can be evolution- in Shane R. Thye, Edward arily stable, and can proliferate in a popula- J. Lawler (ed.) Altruism and Prosocial Behavior in tion in which it is initially rare, provided that Groups (Advances in Group certain plausible conditions hold, including Processes, Volume 26), a link between group-beneficial signaling Emerald Group Publishing and underlying qualities of the signaler that Limited, pp.133-163. would be of benefit to a potential mate or alliance partner. The model applies to a range of cooperative interactions, including unconditionally sharing individually consumable resources.”
On Kiva.org Providing benefits for third world entrepreneurs through Kiva.org is typically a dyadic interaction that does not provide pecuniary benefit for the lender. Costly signaling might provide an explanation for this behavior because it models the bigger (group) picture in which lenders might signal to peers through the loans they make and by doing so receive indirect reciprocal benefits.
“Cooperation among unrelated individuals has generally been explained by some form of conditional reciprocity.” (Gintis et al. 2001)
> Superman always saves the pretty women who love to grab on to his manly biceps.
Who will be subject of this research
WEB SCRAPING gathering and selecting data A self-reliant way to gather data on cooperation on Kiva.org is by ‘scraping’ it. I can write a script that can specifically and automatically harvest data from DEFINITION Kiva.org. Web scraping (also called web harvesting or web data extraction) Kiva.org contains various types of data. That is a computer software technique of extracting of the lenders, their teams and the borrowinformation from webers. sites. (Wikipedia, 2012)
A lender’s profile on Kiva.org contains extensive statistics on the lender’s lending behavREFERENCES ior. Team summaries on Kiva.org contain aggre- Wikipedia (2012), Web gated statistics reflecting team-level lending scraping. Retreived from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ behaviors. Team memberships describe the Web_scraping. social network that team members form. A borrowers profile on Kiva.org contains extensive data on the loan in a ‘loan overview’.
Method With these data various perspectives can be attained. Both qualitative and quantitive research can be based on the data. I’m not sure which method to chose and on what data (selection) to base further work.
“Web scraping focuses more on the transformation of unstructured data on the web into structured data that can be stored and analyzed.” (Wikipedia, 2012)
> The typical user profile on Kiva.org bulks with data.
CONTACTING KIVA.ORG receiving readily available data A more ideal way to access data though, would be through direct cooperation with Kiva.org. Sadly, so far efforts to realize communication and cooperation have been APPLYING fruitless. I have applied at Kiva.org as volunteer. Offering this research in return for research If cooperation can be realized, possibly data. I have received no Kiva.org can provide me with unfiltered respons.
anonymous user data describing user behavior. Without communication with Kiva.org I have no insight in what more these data can offer than scraping, but even if this ap- SELF-PROMOTION proach does not offer richer data it assum- In an effort to get my application on the top ingly offers easier access to the data.
of Kiva.org’s pile I have contacted New York Times bestselling author John Green in person. With some creative and frisky self-promotion I managed to impress him on the spot, but so far I am not aware of developments on the requested action from his part.
“You are good” (John Green, New York Times bestselling author)