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Napster users between community and clientele : The formation and regulation of a sociotechnical group - J.-S. Beuscart

Jean-Samuel Beuscart
Ecole Normale Superieure de Cachan, Groupe d’Analyse des Politiques Publiques, 61, avenue du President Wilson, 94235 Cachan cedex, France

Available online 26 October 2005 on ScienceDirect

Napster, a peer-to-peer setup for exchanging music files, was exemplary of an open sociotechnical system. Two major, contradictory explanations of this innovation are examined. The first presents Napster as a self-regulated community with a new type of exchanges based on cooperation and gift-giving. The second analyzes it as a means of consumption, where opportunistic calculations and behaviors prevailed and which was heralding in an online music market. Empirical observations of the origins and uses of Napster reveal that these interpretations mask the technical dimension and overestimate the user’s ability to make rational calculations and moral judgments. Regulating this sociotechnical group depended on “technical solidarity” wherein users’ moral actions and calculations coped with a fragmented technical system.

Keywords : Commons ; Public domain ; Virtual community ; Sociotechnical system ; Gifts ; Consumption ; Internet ; Music ; Napster, France

Article Outline

  • 1. An open sociotechnical system
  • 1.1. Napster’s prehistory
  • 1.2. Changes in the organization of exchanges
  • 1.3. A new, open system
  • 2. Why contribute to the group ?
  • 2.1. The commons
  • 2.2. The community
  • 2.3. “Technical solidarity” as a way out of this dichotomy
  • 3. Users’ mentalities between consuming for free and cooperating
  • 3.1. The circulation of goods
  • 3.2. The circulation of information
  • 4. Conclusion
  • References

Sociologie du Travail
Volume 47, Supplement 1, December 2005, Pages e1–e16
Translation by Noal Mellott