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= did you know Google is a "Mumi" ?, a concept from the Gift Economy


David de Ugarte: The anthropologist Marvin Harris describes mumis, in his Life Without Chiefs, as one of the pillars of society among the Siuai in the Solomon Islands. Even though he includes the study of mumis within his research into social evolution towards hierarchisation, the very survival of the figure of the mumi to this day shows how powerful it is. Mumis are social animators, people who intensify production and then redistribute it. A young man who wishes to become a mumi must work tirelessly towards the preparation of communal feasts for the entire tribe to enjoy. With that, he will gain followers, who will provide meat and coconuts for even larger feasts. If he is capable of setting up a larger feast than that of establishes, his renown will increase, and he will win the followers of the previous mumi over, becoming the head of the tribe.”

“Web mumis, like Flickr or YouTube, provide free tools for users, and generate in their own servers social spaces similar to those generated by distributed networks. By giving up from the start the power to select, these mumis allow anyone to upload anything; and, more importantly, they allow anyone to access anything, which gives users the power of selection.

Essentially, mumis generate great repositories from what is provided by users themselves, and every user effects his or her own selection. The system generates a number of outputs which is in principle as large as the number of users.”



Internet Mumis

David de Ugarte:

“The key to Internet mumis lies in the fact that, like Melanesian mumis, it is very difficult for them to become chiefs and charge for their services, returning to a scarcity economy. Any candidate to mumihood will be able to repeat his offer at zero price. This being so, once a certain threshold is crossed, the network effect will act in his favour and the old mumi will sink into oblivion or retreat into a marginal market.

This is how Google outstripped Altavista and Yahoo in the web browser market, and killed off the old Usenet, where groups where democratically created, by launching Google Groups, where creation of groups is free. Mumis are the quickest way to reach an abundance logic. The effects of the appearance of mumis are similar to those of the extension of distributed networks. In fact, mumis can appear as a reaction on the part of the centralising nodes in charge of a community, producing scarcity in response to the possibility of the network’s becoming distributed.

My own favourite example of the way in which a mumi generates distributed modes of communication is, a web service which allows us to save pages that catch our attention, tagging them and saving all comments in them. was first designed as a way of enlarging our Favourites list and making it independent from the computer on which we happened to be browsing. By including tags, the system allowed us to see not only how many users had selected that link, but also which pages under each tag were most popular .

But then a number of sites appeared (reddit, digg and their clones all over the world) in which users could nominate and vote for news and blog posts. These services aggregate all individual votes, and publish on their front pages a list of the most voted posts. As a whole, all these voting groups constitute a decentralised network in which every site specialises in a language or topic. In a way, all these sites, like all nodes in a decentralised network, produce scarcity. Why should everyone vote to produce one single result? Wouldn't it be more logical that everyone could tell the system which results he or she wants to obtain, which users' opinions he or she wants to consult?

When users started to make these questions and even set up, with free software, similar systems for their own communities, saw that it had a chance to step in. Its system could also be employed by users, in an improved way, to share news among themselves. In fact, many users were already doing so. By using the RSS feed generated by for every result page, users were dynamically publishing on their blogs the favourites they were earmarking as they read other blogs and news every day.

No doubt few people would add to their blog the world total resulting from aggregating the favourites of all users; but they certainly consult the system to see what other things are being earmarked by their friends, colleagues, and acquaintances – by the people in their network with whom they share common interests, or whose tastes they are at least curious about.

And so launched network, a way of earmarking other users as a part of your network, and of picking from their accounts, in live time, the links they earmark as they browse the web. Of course, the fact that someone earmarks you as a part of their own network doesn't mean that they will be included in your own network until you aggregate them. In that way, every user can obtain a different aggregation based on other users' choices. Thus,, while centralising its system, distributes and generate as many different aggregations as would be produced by a distributed network, and generates, de facto, a distributed information network.

reddit was the first aggregator to see the coming threat: it was better to be a mumi, and give everyone whatever they wished, than be displaced by an outburst of community news exchange systems. Thus reddit friends was born, a version of the service in which each user can say which votes he or she wants to aggregate and whose proposals should be voted for. Unlike the original system, there is no longer a single collective result which everyone has cast a vote for. There are as many different results as there are users, interests, and tastes – just in the same way as if the system of great vote-centralising nodes had been replaced by a huge distributed network. Mumis were one of the first innovations that the Internet experience brought to information economics.”

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