I have just started reading Wikinomics – How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams.

They are looking at how mass participation in a non-hierarchical fashion is re-shaping business.  We have seen the power of this new architecture for business in the success of phenomena as diverse as Linux, Wikipedia, MySpace and the Human Genome project – Tapscott and Williams call this Wikinomics and believe what we have seen so far is only the beginning.  Their central thesis is that companies who use the internet to harness the power of mass collaboration will win in the market place by being more innovative and more agile than their old style competitors.  They believe that the old model of hoarding information at the centre and operating on a “knowledge is power” basis will struggle to react quickly enough to the ever increasing change of pace in society.

In the introduction they set out four “principles of wikinomics”:

  • Being Open,
  • Peering,
  • Sharing, and
  • Thinking globally

Being open, sharing and thinking globally are principles I have talked about on this blog, and in the case of being open and sharing they are themes I have returned to multiple times.  My enthusiasm for enterprise2.0 stems from these ideas.

Peering is a bit different though – on this one I find myself on the fence.  Peering is the notion that strict hierarchy is a barrier rather than an enabler – I can see that to an extent – wikipedia and Linux both show that people are more passionate when contributing to a movement in which they feel they have genuine ownership.  But at the same time wikipedia and all open source movements wouldn’t be where they are today without the hierarchies that they have developed.  Then there is the question of making money – mass collaboration can be achieving great things for the world, but it is only significant in the narrow context of VCs and entrerpreneurs (ie this blog) if it can be harnessed to turn a profit.  Most organisations operating in this area either don’t try to make profits or struggle to do so.

The notion of peering is also important to just about every social media site.  It seems to me that this is somewhat different to what is going on with the more altruistic phenomena I describe above.  On social networks 99% of activity is selfishly motivated – in the style of Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand this operates for the greater good, but selfish activity it is none the less.  Very different to writing something for Wikipedia.

It seems to me therefore that there are at least three important concpets at play in peering – hierarchy, altruism and potential for profit.  I have yet to see a good analysis of how they operate and interact.

I am excited about reading the whole book but it is on the subject of peering that I hope to learn the most.

There is (of course) a Wikinomics blog that makes good reading – for example there is a recent post on myfootballclub a mass collaboration effort to buy a UK football club (they are halfway to their target of 50,000 investors at £35 each who will then all be co-chairman of the club they vote to buy – Leeds is the current favourite).

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