New technologies and new possibilities

These two trends allow for a new range of potential social and creative activities. We discuss four, above and beyond what mobiles with SMS and the Internet with Web1.0 technologies provide (i.e., expanded voice and digital communication possibilities, sharing of digital content, etc.):

Increased coordination, organization, and mobilization of people: Individuals, groups and organizations have an unprecedented possibility to take advantage of the highly networked world to coordinate, organize and mobilize in ways that were heretofore impossible (Rheingold, 2002; Shirky, 2008). Previously, beyond a certain level of complexity, firms (institutions) were needed to coordinate group action. However even organizations had upper limits on their size due to transaction costs for coordinating that exceeded the benefits from organized action. Now, however, the technology has changed the rules by lowering the costs of coordinating group action: “most barriers to group action have collapsed, and without those barriers, we are free to explore new ways of gathering together and getting things done (Shirky, 2008). This includes a wide range of activities: documenting the 2004 tsunami, impromptu flash mobs, large scale political rallies, interest group meet-ups, tracking down a stolen handheld and the massive sharing of latent CPU processing cycles among others. People are able to connect with others with the same sets of interests across the world. This is especially significant for those who have niche interests who might otherwise find it difficult to connect and share experiences with like-minded people.

Peer production (Open Source Collaboration): Peer production is a new form of production that takes advantage of this new form of coordination to harness collective intelligence that does not rely on traditional market or state-based organizational forms (Benkler, 2002; Bollier, 2007; Tapscott & Williams, 2006). This new “third-form of governance” (see Table 1) uses the new coordinating potential of ICTs to achieve “serious, complex work, taken on without institutional direction” (Shirky, 2008). The power of peer production lies in its capacity to coordinate and harness the energy and creativity from many people with “many and diverse motivations, towards common goals in concerted effort” (Benkler & Nissenbaum, 2006). This form of collaboration effectively overcomes Brooks’ law – that coordination costs should rise as the square of the number of workers – through an effective intellectual division of labour and modularisation of the activities (Langlois & Garzarelli, 2008). These activities operate with normative incentives such as shared ideals, social sharing and moral commitments rather than economic incentives.

Of course, there are times when harnessing the wisdom of the crowds might not be preferable to another organizational form of decision making or production. There are numerous successful examples of peer production such as Wikipedia, an online encyclopaedia with the same levels of accuracy as the Encyclopaedia Britannica. However, there have been failed attempts. For example, an attempt to manage a baseball team through online voting in Illinois was not a successful experiment, at least in the short-term (Bollier, 2007). Thus, a crucial question remains: In what circumstances does commons-based decentralized peer production have an advantage over market or state-based production?

Market-based Non-market
Decentralized Price-system Social sharing & exchange
Centralized Firm hierarchy Government; non-profits

Table: Modes of Content Production

User-generated content: One of the most wide-spread aspects of new Web2.0 applications currently on the Internet, besides the social networking software, are the sites that provide a space to place user-created content. Web logs (blogs) and YouTube are possibly the most well known, but the field of user-generated content extends into almost any domain of social life that can be imagined. The intensely lowered costs of production and dissemination through ICTs has enabled individuals to share their own creative work with the world.

User-driven innovation: A related phenomenon to peer production is the “democratization” of innovation in which the users of products and services innovate for themselves (von Hippel, 2005), or at least participate in the co-creation of products and services. This is another form of harnessing collective intelligence that taps into the 10-40% of user-innovators – those users who engage in developing or modifying products (Henkel & von Hippel, 2003; von Hippel, 2005). The terms “prosumer” (producer + consumer) and “prosumption” (production + consumption) have emerged – to describe new business approaches that incorporate customers into the value production process (Bollier, 2007).

A final point should be made here. While new emerging ICTs do provide a platform for social coordination, it is the total innovations environment that we are concerned with here. This environment extends well beyond the boundaries of the hardware communications infrastructure and personal computing devices. Crucially, as we will see, the possibilities for sharing, organizing and mobilizing collaboration and innovation are a function of the interaction of the digital environment (technical infrastructure, hardware devices, standards and content) with the social (economic, legal, political, cultural) environment within which the digital environment is embedded and which plays a large role in determining the availability of access and (re) usability of goods (Lessig, 2001).

Next: What is openness?

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