[wikimania] Wealth of Networks


Benkler has gotten a lot of attention lately for his Wealth of Networks, and Lessig yesterday heaped superlatives upon him. Today he talked a bit about the border areas between what he calls “commons-based peer production (CSPP)”. The talk focused on the drivers of such production, as well as how mixed models might work, and how this represents not just a small evolution of social, economic, legal, and business structures, but new structures that are actively challenging existing structures.

In order to allow for CBPP, you need two things: authority and practical capability. That is, you need legal and other spaces of permission (including social!) to engage in these things, and you need to be able to do these things. (I’ll note that ability is a fungible concept. Really, you should say “easy.”) These two elements allow for cooperation, but it also requires some sort of driver. Because of the increase of CBPP, we are seeing complex relationships between money and intrinsic motivations. But there is also a human issue here. We need to better understand these motivations for sociability, etc.

Paid Diggers

This came to a fine point in the recent controversy over paying Diggers. Calacanis is here and in the question period challenged Benkler (until pulled from the mic), suggesting that paying doesn’t hurt the process. After all, he argued, Wikipedia pays a small number of developers, that doesn’t make everyone else in the room this morning “suckers.” I hope that someone has a better record of the exchange than I do. I’m not sure that there was a clear conclusion in Benkler’s response. It’s complex, yes, but that is what makes it interesting.


There are new opportunities in this space. Creating tools is where it’s at (including tools that make tools). Benkler doesn’t go too much into this, except to note that product-space seems to be bifurcating along general-use devices, and devices that make devices, on one side, and “trusted systems” and other crippled, excluding systems on the other.

Mass Democracy

Our experience with modern democracy is entirely mediated by mass media. The Pentagon Papers case is the paragon of democracy via mass media. If you sketch out the major players, it’s pretty clear that it is relatively limited to the New York Times, the Pentagon, and the Courts. The Diebold controversy is the counter example. No mass media coverage really, but a highly distributed group of critics who were impossible to silence using existing structures. I’m always a bit skeptical about cutting the mass media out of significant political change. But Benkler makes a good case for real change (especially in Maryland and California) due to a “ordered networked public sphere.”

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