Is volunteering free service such a good thing?

@cvrajan (356)
India
March 15, 2009 12:11pm CST
I write from India and I have a guess about American (or predominently Christianity influenced?) culture - that volunteering to do free service is considered a very commendable and essential quality in life. Volunteering to do a free service as a member of a religious group or spiritual organization or as a charity (with or without religious back ground) for the upliftment of the downtrodden or for the benefit of the society is one thing. But how about volunteering to do some free service even in commercial establishments? Take for example: Wikipedia. I understand most of (or all of) the reference stuff out there are being contributed voluntarily. I think Linus has been developed by the free contribution of numerous software professionals. There are many such examples out there. I understand may websites thrive by utilizing the free service of some knowledgeable people and they "reward" the members by giving some "stars" and "T-shirts" once a while and nothing else. Why do people do it for free? For ego satisfaction? For a sense of self-importance? Or is it part of a culture? Take for example, Helium website. It is a commercial website, which accepts and publishes articles from numerous writers across the globe, get advertisement revenue and share a portion of it with writers. But they have "site stewards" - to monitor the various major title groups and help writers, co-ordinate with them, monitor contents etc and they all work for free! People seem to volunteer to do that work in all eagerness expecting nothing in return! It is simply baffling to me. Why should people offer free service to a commercial organization? If it is a service organization or a religious organization it is totally different. Just because people offer services for free (for ego satisfaction, pride or whatever), are not the commercial organizations exploiting people? If such sites were to employ people for doing such work, they have to pay salary. But by simply utilizing people's tendency to offer free service, is it correct on the part of an organization to happily make money (or save money) by the strength of free labor? I doubt very much whether such a way can ever work in India. Here, people do volunteer service, but it is mostly religion, spirituality or charity oriented. Some amount of free service can be seen in political organizations too in India, where grass-root level members offer so called free service, but they too tend to do it for food, some perks, or by eying for some future benefits from the powers-that-be. What do you think about this? Is it a cultural phenomenon? Is it a trend encouraged by religion? How far is it okay for commercial organizations to exploit free service for self-serving ends? Do you have any personal experience on this matter?
1 response
• United States
15 Mar 09
Helping someone out, no matter if they're a friend, a religious group, a stranger or a company is always a nice thing to do. Developing freeware is wonderful - it allows for a free exchange of software. Freeware is made freely and *shared* freely. Since no one had to pay anything to make it, no one has to pay anything to get it. I'm a little confused about using Wikipidea as the example, since the entire point of the website is that anyone can add information to it. It's not so much volunteer work there. People like to share information they have, wikipedia allows them to do it. As someone who likes to update content on there, I don't consider it volunteer work. It's almost a hobby, really. And again, Wikipedia is free to use. If they had to pay the vast amount of workers needed to maintain such a massive database...I doubt they'd even be able to handle server fees. There are some times and places where yes, volunteer work works out well. Everyone wins.
@cvrajan (356)
• India
15 Mar 09
You are right about Wikipedia. They get it free and give it back free for all users. But some say, there are quite some errors in Wikipedia data and not everything that appear there must be taken as true. But I personally feel Wikipedia does give lots and lots of dependable information. But do you mean to say that those who run Wikipedia will not have any commercial benefit of running it?If a site like Mylot can pay -- pay something even though it is insignificant(many times even for some nonsense that I write!), why not Wikipedia?