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A précis from Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes

Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration
Changes Everything
Don Tapscott & Anthony D Williams
Atlantic Books, London, revised edition 2008.

Wikinomics = A new art and science of


At the end of 2006, the same week that the first

edition of Wikinomics was published, Time
magazine chose ‘YOU’, the online collaborator, as
its ‘Person of the Year’. Time was right to highlight
the explosion of social networking. MySpace was
growing at 2 million new registrants per week (with
over two hundred million members – and on its way
to half a billion). Most college students in the US
were on Facebook. A new blog was created every
second of the day, 24 hours a day. It seemed that
‘you’ really was changing the world.

The Internet is no longer about hooking up on-line, creating a music

community or putting a video on YouTube. ‘User Generated Media’
(UGM or UGC as it’s sometimes referred to – ‘User Generated
Content’) and ‘social networking’ are really just the tip of the
iceberg. A new mode of production is in the making.

Critic of Wikinomics – Andrew Keen (Author of the Cult of the

Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture) believes that
the world is awash with drivel because it is so easy to propagate
ideas on the Internet. He laments the fact that the newspaper
circulation figures are declining while YouTube videos of
skateboarding accidents capture the nation’s eyeballs. A healthy
society needs gatekeepers, he argues. Only then can we ensure
quality, so, for example, TV commercials will continue being
produced by experienced and talented directors and viewers won’t
be subjected to pathetic wannabe commercials that win contests
run by companies looking for cheap advertising.

In response to this, Tapscott and Williams argue that

a study by Nature magazine revealed, all of our
systems of knowledge production have flaws.
Encyclopaedia Britannica was found to have nearly as
many errors as Wikipedia – the key difference is that
Wikipedia’s fluid content creation mechanisms and
large volunteer community ensure that its errors get
fixed quickly. They argue that amateurs are not drowning out
informed and fact-based commentary; they’ve just replaced the old
one-way monologue with increasingly rich and variegated
conversations where a billion voices can be heard.
A précis from Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes

Free Economy or Communism?

Some critics have argued that Wikinomics – with its emphasis on
sharing intellectual property – is akin to communism and thus
undermines the legitimate right of companies to make a profit. Still
others suggest that Wikinomics is promoting a ‘free economy’
where unpaid volunteers are exploited by corporations. Few of
these critics seem to have noticed that the majority of the people
who participate in peer production communities are profiting,
sometimes monetarily and other times by using their experience to
further their careers or expand their network. For example:
YouTube began, in 2008, to share its ad revenue with the
contributors of the most popular videos.

The Birth of the Prosumer

Throughout history, corporations have organised
themselves according to strict hierarchical lines
of authority. Everyone was a subordinate to
someone else – employees versus managers,
marketers versus customers, companies versus
the communities. There was
always someone or some company in charge,
controlling things at the ‘top’ of the food chain.
While hierarchies are not vanishing completely,
profound changes in the nature of technology,
demographics and the global economy are giving
rise to powerful new models of production based on
community, collaboration and self organisation rather than on
hierarchy and control.

Millions of media buffs now use blogs, wikis, chat rooms and
personal broadcasting to add their voices to a noisy stream of
dialogue and debate called the ‘blogosphere’. Customers have
become ‘prosumers’ by co-creating goods and services rather than
simply consuming the end production.

Explosive Growth
Ordinary people and firms are linking up in
imaginative new ways to drive innovation and
success. A number of these stories
revolve around the explosive growth of
phenomena such as MySpace, flickr,
Second Life and YouTube. These
organisations are harnessing mass collaboration to
create real value for participants and have enjoyed
phenomenal successes as a result.

Billions of connected individuals can now actively participate in

innovation, wealth creation and social development in ways we once
A précis from Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes
only dreamed of. And when these masses of people collaborate
they collectively can advance the arts, culture, science, education,
government and the economy in surprising but ultimately profitable

Peer Production
As of August 2006, the online networking extravaganza MySpace
had one hundred million users – growing by half a million a week
(how many would that be in 2009?) – whose personal musings,
connections, and profiles are the primary engines of value creation
on the site. MySpace, YouTube, Linux and Wikipedia – today’s
exemplars of mass collaboration – are just the beginning;

The upheaval occurring right now in media and entertainment

provides an early example of how mass collaboration is turning the
economy upside down. Once a bastion of ‘professionalism’,
credentialed knowledge producers share the stage with ‘amateur’
creators who are disrupting every activity they touch. Tens of
millions of people share their news, information and views in the
blogosphere, a self-organised network of over 50 million personal
commentary sites that are updated every second of the day. Some
of the largest weblogs (or blogs are we refer to them as) receive a
half a million daily visitors, rivalling some newspapers. Now
audioblogs, podcasts and mobile photo blogs are adding to a
dynamic, up-to-the-minute stream of person-to-person news and
information delivered free over the Web.

Individuals now share knowledge, computing power, bandwidth and

other resources to create a wide array of free and open source
goods and services that anyone can use of modify. What’s more,
people can contribution to the ‘digital commons’ at very little cost to
themselves, which makes collective action much more attractive.
Indeed peer production is a very social activity. All one needs is a
computer, a network connection and a bright spark of initiative and
creativity to join in the economy.

Media Buffs
Rather than consume the TV
news, you can now create,
along with thousands of
independent citizen
journalists who are turning
the profession upside down.
Tire of the familiar old faces
and blather on network
news? Turn of your TV, pick
up a video camera and some
cheap editing software, and
create a news feature for
A précis from Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes
Current TV, a cable and satellite network created almost entirely by
amateur contributors, originally set up in the States but now over
here too. Though the contributions are unpaid volunteers, the
content is surprisingly good. Current TV provides online tutorials for
camera operation and storytelling techniques, and their guidelines
for creating stories help get participants started. Viewers vote on
which stories go to air, and so only the most engaging materials
makes prime time.

The New World of Wikinomics

We are becoming an economy unto ourselves – a vast global

network of specialised producers that swap and exchange services
for entertainment, sustenance and learning. A new economic
democracy is emerging in which we all have a lead role. As people
individually and collectively program the Web, they’re increasingly
in command. They not only have an abundance of choices, they can
increasingly rely on themselves. This is the new consumer power.
It’s not just the ability to swap suppliers at the click of a mouse, or
the prerogative to customise their purchased goods (that was last
century). It’s the power to become their own supplier – in effect to
become an economy unto themselves.

This is just a précis of a much larger argument about the

future of mass collaboration on the Internet. You should
aim to find out more – the library has several copies of the
book and you will find lots of academic articles challenging
the argument behind Wikinomics on the Internet.