BookMooch: a gift economy for books

David Bollier, who maintains one of the best blogs on the internet regarding Commons-related topics, has a great news and commentary item on a new service which allows you to exchange used books, i.e. BookMooch. I’m reblogging it at lenght, as it really important initiative.

First of all, what is it? David explains:

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One of the great blessings of digital networks is their capacity to incubate and nourish gift economies of people. I’m excited to learn about a new experiment, BookMooch, which functions as a global gift economy of book lovers. We all have plenty of books that we don’t really want any more – and we all covet other books that may be a bit too expensive or difficult for us to acquire. Why not work out an exchange pool?

That’s what BookMooch is — a vast international book exchange made possible by a software system that tracks its own BookMooch “currency” of points. (In this sense, it resembles the Time Dollars barter-exchange program – another innovative and worthy project.) With the tagline, “New life for old books,â€? BookMooch keeps a list of all the books you want to give away, and compiles thousands of individual lists into a huge master inventory. You can then search and browse the inventory, and request a book. Or you can browse individual “wish listsâ€? and offer to send a book that someone wants.”

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David then explains how it works:

Books “cost “pointsâ€? that you earn by participating in the gift economy. For every book you offer to give away, you get one-tenth of a point. For every book you actually send to a requestor, you get 1 point – or 3 points if it is sent to another country. (A requestor who acknowledges receipt of the book gets one-tenth of a point, too.) BookMooch keeps track of this vast economy of points, and lets you “spendâ€? them on books listed by members. One point, one book.”

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What are the “peer governance rules” that “BookMooch uses to keep the book exchange fair and functional?

For example, you have to send out at least one book for every five you receive, so that you can’t just take from the commons without also giving. Also, if you don’t fulfill requests promptly or don’t package them properly, you may get a bad feedback store, which will allow people to refuse your mooch requests. To prevent fraud, participants are allowed only so many “lost in the mailâ€? episodes.”

Go to the original article for more details about its funding, and on the people behind the project.

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