challenging axelrod and the three conditions

While reading the 3 Necessary Conditions for Cooperation in Robert Axelrod’s 1984 work, The Evolution of Cooperation, I was struck by how cooperation has changed in the last thirty years and how the sharing structure of the web has altered collaboration. I have contentions about each of his three conditions and will try to explain them below:

  1. A likelihood of meeting in the future. Axelrod explains that when parties don’t have plans to meet, it is near impossible to hold others accountable for their ends of bargains. He believes that people are likely to become selfish and abuse the relationship if they cannot be held accountable by the knowledge of a future meeting.
    • The most obvious example to me of this is with musicians. I collaborate with many musicians, especially beatmakers and try to meet them all to gain connections. But, I and many other musicians I know, have also worked with others that we have never, and will likely never meet. It is easy to hold someone accountable online and damage their reputation if they are flaky or stand you up. Also, if each artist, or collaborator in any field is working for mutual benefit (i.e. exposure, a very lucrative currency online) then they have all the incentive necessary to work hard, whether they meet or not.
      • Bike for Three is a collaboration between Canadian rapper Buck 65, and Belgian producer Greetings from Tuskan. The two have never met despite making a great album together. They wrote a song about the concept:
  2. Ability to identify each other. Accroding to Axelrod, if we cannot identify the person across the network from us, we cannot hold them accountable. Therefore everyone we want to cooperate with must be identified as “a person to the system they’re in and the people they’re dealing with.”
    • Each day there is tons of cooperation between individuals and nameless, faceless companies online. I frequently email music blogs for example addressing them by the website name to due lack of an actual name being mentioned and often get responses from them without them providing any name at all.
    • Another prime example is collaboration on reddit, where in r/photoshopbattles for example, users take a picture and riff on it and the ideas and photos of others, upvoting the best or funniest changes to a photo just for fake internet points and the fun of it.
    • Strangers on reddit also order each other food, send Secret Santa presents, or make donations to almost anonymous users on the honor system, paying it forward.
  3. A record of past behavior. The author maintains that the best way to judge future cooperation is by judging someone’s status and reputation.
    • The most obvious example here to me is venture capitalists in Palo Alto. Often companies are founded by young high school or college students or recent graduates, with little to no past experience or reputation to build on beyond a good idea and some flashy marketing. Yet despite this lack of apparently vital industry cred, they frequently receive hundreds of thousands, and occasionally millions of dollars to turn their idea into a reality, making the prospective of future money a better incentive for cooperation than any record of past behavior.

Though I have more to contend with the first condition, I believe that each of these conditions has shifted due to the changing structure of the internet economy. It will be very interesting to see how these tenants of collaboration hold up in say, 50 years. Will they even exist at all?