Take a look at the Jörgen Skågeby’s recent PhD thesis “Gifting Technologies: Ethnographic Studies of End-users and Social Media Sharing” where he has studied the phenomenon of file sharing (to simplify everything a tad!)
In his thesis Jörgen Skågeby has studied the classical questions posed in gift theory: why gifts are given? what gifts are given? To whom are gifts given? How are gifts given? in relation to file sharing.
File sharing was earlier seen as a way for young people to recieve free media however Jörgen thesis argues that there is a growing social interaction developing which replaces the download focused view of file sharing with a focus on sharing. Contrary to popular views Jörgen argues that on the Internet it is clear to see who are friends and who are not – much more so than in the offline world.
from the abstract:
This thesis explores what dimensions that can be used to describe and compare the sociotechnical practice of content contribution in online sharing networks… Gift-giving was used as an applied theoretical framework and the data was analyzed by theory-informed thematic analysis. The results of the analysis recount four interrelated themes: what kind of content is given; to whom is it given; how is it given; and why is it given? … A general methodological contribution is the utilization of sociotechnical conflicts as units of analysis. These conflicts prove helpful in predicting, postulating and researching end-user innovation and conflict coordination. It is suggested that the conflicts also provide potent ways for interaction design and systems development to take end-user concerns and intentions on board.