When people talk of gift economies, often they talk about them as a replacement for the market economy. But gift economies and market economies have operated side-by-side for much of history. Child care, until recently, was exclusively a gift economy — neighbors would babysit one another’s kids. The creative arts and science have historically been gift economies, and to a large extent they still are. And today, free, open-source software sits alongside ad-supported and paid software.

To me, the most interesting examples of gift economies are when they exist alongside money economies within the same organization. I think this points to where the world is headed. Craigslist doesn’t charge for any of its services other than job postings. Google places advertisements on a small fraction of its result pages. Both companies understand that gifting most of their services leads to short-term costs, but long-term viability. But to think about it this way doesn’t do justice to the real story.

The real story is that their founders thought of the gift first, and the means of supporting it second.