Downloading culture: community building in a decentralized file-sharing collective

Alon Diamant-Cohen, Oren Golan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


File-sharing collectives have significantly disrupted models of digital media distribution since their emergence and widespread popularization in the late 1990s. This study investigates how semi-anonymous and decentralized collectives construct their communities of practice. Conducting a case study of a private torrenting community, data were gathered via participant observation, interviews, and online postings (i.e., blogs and forums). Findings challenged dominant notions of opportunism, selfishness and task-oriented individualism advanced by Human–Computer Interaction scholars. Three key constructs were identified in private torrent community building: boundary construction, membership maintenance, and a sense of belonging and solidarity. Findings illustrate how a file-sharing community cultivates the formation of prosocial digital peers, fosters an affective approach to peer-to-peer collectives, and ultimately forges a downloading virtuoso community. This sisyphean, goal-oriented community seeks to create a comprehensive archive of media artifacts independent of and in opposition to dominant corporate platforms. The community demonstrates a downloading culture inspired by technological design, yet driven by trust and solidarity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1737-1755
Number of pages19
JournalInformation Communication and Society
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2 Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Virtual ethnography
  • deviant communities
  • digital downloads
  • online culture
  • peer-to-peer
  • torrenting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Library and Information Sciences


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