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What brings you here? Ning converts social capital to financial capital

December 16, 2009

Christmas Gifts by Sigismund von Dobschütz GNU Free

I just visited a Ning site. As I was posting a comment to a member of a group, I was invited to send a “gift” (in the form of an image of a teddy bear, bouquet of flowers etc.) along with my message. I followed the links and discovered that these gifts are purchased with credits that are earned by setting up and managing a Ning site, or are purchased with real money. I came across the following two contradictory statements:

Ning Credits are merely a virtual item licensed to you and have no monetary value.”
Ning uses PayPal or other third parties to process your payments for Ning Credits“.

The term “Qualifying Transaction” is also interesting.

Ning, like other “free” social networking spaces, is a machine for converting social capital into financial capital. Users pay nothing to create or to access a Ning site, and posting text is free. However, the system controls the supply of images, which become a valuable currency in the exchange of ideas. The business model works — as long as the supply of social capital is greater than the supply of financial capital. Conversations are further “monitarized” by selling our attention to advertisers (a gift we cannot refuse to give). Oh, well. It does enable us to have a chat with friends around the fountain, even if the fountain is in a shopping mall. And the climate is controlled.

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