Why do certain people share their stuff, while others don’t? In science, why do certain researchers publish pre-prints of their articles or make data publicly available, while others don’t? Is there a participatory culture that encourages sharing? Where is it found and how can it be explained? All these questions have run through my mind recently and I haven’t found a satisfying answer yet. To my knowledge – which is somehow limited -, empirical research (in the social sciences) hasn’t found a satisfying answer, either.
I for my part, though, have made good experiences with sharing. Some years ago, I put my seminar, semester, and diploma theses online. I also shared summaries of books and articles that I read for my final (master thesis) exams. My rationale was that I might as well make that stuff available, because some people might find it useful – and because they will only gather dust on my harddisk. In the end, these documents now have almost 40000 page impressions and were downloaded several thousand times. The most popular text – a summary (in German) of Pierre Bourdieu’s “Distinction” – has more than 10000 page views as of today. This is actually quite a lot for a summary of an academic text. And the summary now appears prominently when googling for the book and author. This shows that some people can make use of my stuff, which is very encouraging (although I don’t know what kind of people use these resources, it doesn’t really matter, as long as they find it good enough for their needs).
However, in my immediate environment, the majority is still not sharing. During my studies, very few of my fellow students would make available their text summaries, seminar theses, bachelor or master theses. Why? I think one important reason is that they don’t even think about it. Studying, preparing exams, doing group work etc. absorbs time. It requires a lot of attention and keeps busy. Why should you bother sharing exam preparation exercises? Why should you put your semester thesis on the web? I for my part never came up with the idea of doing so until very late… Nobody encouraged me to share my documents, neither my profs, nor my fellow students. Thinking about it in retrospect, it would have been better to share earlier, but I didn’t even think about it. It was not part of my life(style) and of my range of thought. There were other things in life that mattered.
A second possible reason why people don’t share: the fear that no one is interested in their stuff or that it’s not good enough. These are very poor excuses not to share. First, given the sheer number of people populating the planet and having access to the web, it’s very likely that some of them share your interests (even if it’s a very tiny number, it’s still worth the effort). For them, your documents (summaries, exercises, code, data etc.) might mean the world and be of great help. As for the “not good enough” argument, don’t worry! Even if it’s not good or accurate, people will learn from it.
Another reason: Sharing is daring. Many institutions rely on not-sharing and secrecy. This is their good right. In the end, however, each individual should decide for herself if she wants to share or not. Especially at universities, senior staff should encourage their students to share early and often. This way, sharing becomes much less demanding.. and won’t take so much daring.
So much for now. In my next post, I want to shed more light on the complex construct of sharing. I will demonstrate that it has many more facets (than one might assume) and that this here was a somehow shallow post that needs specification.