Typically seen as part of a broader marketing strategy, token airdrops have been compared to a shop giving out free samples of their product. Think of those occasional emails with 20% discount codes from ASOS or the like. It should be noted that airdrops aren’t exactly ‘free money’, being taxed in some cases.
Essentially, a project or protocol (whether startup or established) distributes newly minted tokens to different wallet addresses, often based on eligibility criteria. The aim is to get more and more people talking about the project making the token more likely to rise in price. (See Andrey Sergeenkov explainer in CoinDesk).
This profit motive can rub up against the values of the community around a particular token. The airdrop of a governance token by Optimism (an Ethereum Layer 2 scaling solution) has been accompanied by controversies (including a hack), but perhaps more noteworthy has been a proposal by the community itself to prohibit airdrops to users who dump tokens for a profit as this is “counter-productive for our stated goals.”
The question is: are airdrops just quasi-free money or a potential signifier of one’s commitment to the community?