Wikinomics: the Online Countercultural Movement

I’ve been bitten, hard.

In some of my last posts I approached my concerns for the means by which Mashups were infringing on copyrights, and how Intellectual Property rights weighed into the mix for artists and users of the web. I’ve also responded in defense of Professionalism, and urged the need for respecting some of the traditions of the past. Those who know me personally won’t be suprised by this tendency, but I confess that my decisions have been based upon a set of assumptions and experiences based on how the world already worked.

 Not anymore.

Wikinomics by D. Tapscott and A. Williams (2006, New York: Portfolio) unscrewed my brainpan and mixed things up inside before sealing it all up again to stew for a bit … and all I’ve read so far was the introduction and the first chapter. That was enough for now, but I’ve been hunting for readily accessible copies of the full book since I read the article. I’m just going to have to fully embrace my new web-centric philosophies and deal with the shipping delay from ordering it from Amazon.com.

Buy a Flower for Wiki-Consciousness?

I’m not kidding, Tapscott and Williams are prophets of a whole new way of thinking. I read the first couple of chapters and I could feel the shift in thinking that they were talking about. I can see it spreading, an objective, observable phenomenon, slowly finding its own throughout the marketplace of today. The internet is changing more than just the way in which we access information, it’s completely revolutionizing our entire global socio-economic structure. And no, that’s *not* hyperbole.  The thing is, Wikinomics is still in its infancy, and while there are some promising case studies from early adoption of this new social model, there’s going to be a few uphill battles along the way before it settles out into a finely-tuned model of economic collaboration and intellectual partnerships.

But we’re getting ahead of the point here. Let’s back up and explain. In the book Wikinomics, Tapscott and Williams are presenting a new look at some of the ways that the business model is shifting from what they term the “command and control” model whose legacy we operate under even now.  Before we get into the ‘wikinomics’ aspect of things, let’s take a closer look at command and control thinking.

Command & Control

We should all find this model extremely familiar since it’s the prevailing model of approaching resource allocation today.  Basically, it’s tied fundamentally with the idea of ownership. When you make something, be it an expression of an idea, an actual object, a development process, or a technology, the underlying assumption is that the creator of this -thing-, whatever it is, has ownership. And the owner of a thing commands how that thing will behave, and to what use or purpose it will be applied, at least on the theoretical level.  Ownership is concerned with controlling how these items or assets are used and narrowly defining terms for any sort of asset that you happen to own.

Money is made by taking this asset into the marketplace and charging people for different kinds of access to the asset. It could be allowing the public to have one viewing of a movie you filmed, all for the price of a $9.25 matinee ticket. If could be charging a structured, contractual fee structure to allow someone else to modify or repurpose your idea in certain, limited ways. Under that particular example, the money comes from the temporary access and limited control that the owner assigns to paying individuals, a/k/a “licensing”. All of these models are part of the Command & Control economy.

 Under the Command & Control economy, it behooves the creators of certain items to position them in such a way as to lead to dependence upon the brand, not just the individual item. Consider Microsoft Office Suite of applications. They’re designed to work together, but as with most Microsoft applications, they don’t exactly play well with others. The Microsoft brand is protected, doggedly, because for all of its innovation, Microsoft is definitely a Command & Control economic player.

A New Approach

Wikinomics, on the other hand, as defined by Tapscott and Williams, offers a way of thinking about ownership from a collaborative approach. They define four main principles that helps to define what they term Wikinomics to be all about: being open, peering, sharing, and acting globally (2006).  Being open seems to be all about adopting a model based on transparency and not secrecy, allowing access to resources and assets which were previously strictly controlled, and overall learning to play your cards face-up on the table, not close to your chest. To an extent.   Peering is all about inviting the efforts of true collaboration and empowering a group decision-making process to behave in a way that not only allows but motivates and relies upon the network of peers and colleagues working together. Sharing is the vehicle whereby openness and peering is enabled, being the process of re-evaluating or in places even relinquishing traditional ‘command and control’ strategies for thinking about asset management and intellectual property. And the last principle of acting globally means that the membership and participation in the collaborative efforts is truly opened to global participation, not just hierarchical multinational influence. (Tapscott & Williams, Wikinomics, 2006)

All of this doesn’t seem like much at first glance. After all, companies have used the buzzwords of ‘collaboration’, ‘cooperation’, and ‘partnership’ for a while, without ever stepping outside of the baliwick of Command & Control thinking.  However, traditionally these words were applied in relation only to surface-level shifting of management strategy, not applied to the entire global business culture.

Can we get a witness, please?

Let’s face it; there’s would-be prophets and doom-peddlers in every age, and modern day is no different. There’s an entire bookselling market niche which does nothing more than serve up the latest fads and trends in organizational thinking as the business world has struggled to evolve and develop. Some of them work, and some of them (ach-sixsigma-oo!) do not. But all of them are merely variations played out on top of the Command & Control model of the business game.

Wikinomics has already produced results, and the book goes into a couple of them. One of the primary differences between Wikinomics and Command & Control thinking seems to lie at the foundation of each philosophy. Command & Control operates from the traditional economic pattern- there are finite resources and the scarcity of an object helps to determine its value, so you want to ideally corner markets and control as many high-demand low-supply assets as you possibly can, and therein lies the key to wealth generation in the marketplace. Wikinomics operates from the point of view that of all the resources on the planet, human intelligence is the renewable, ever-expandable, and social model we should be working with. Wikinomics starts from the concept of a foundation of abundance which lies out there just waiting for the right team of entrepreneurs or community-members to gather together to tap into it.

Don’t go door to door hawking Wikinomics just yet

Yeah. Cooperation. Collaboration. Untapping the power of the community. Focusing on the team. Sharing in a supportive environment. Let’s just throw open the doors of every vault and start up the great intellectual socialism of the new millennium! — Huh? Let’s not and say we did.

For one thing, Wikinomics is an ideal right now. In certain cases it is ready to go and working fine, but let’s not miss one crucial point regarding the Command & Control paradigm. Wikinomics argues for the need for less command & control, but it doesn’t say you have to be careless about it. In the Introduction, Tapsott & Williams tell a story about a mining company who released all of their proprietary geological data to the world wide web and offered some prize money for the solutions that could help them strike gold, literally. While definitely an innovative story, let me highlight one all-too-important fact: the one thing that the mining company retained was Command & Control over the land for which the geographic data had been collected. They could afford to post all of their data because the company was dying out already, and even if someone could use that data to locate a potential vein of gold, property rights were very clear as to who could actually prospect on that land.

Balance is always good

Let’s keep that caveat firmly in mind as we continue to look forward regarding the New Collaboration empowered by the internet. Even though we want to attain a much greater degree of collaboration, the Wikinomics principles are not meant to be applied without a strategic evaluation of current business models. In order for the whole concept of Wikinomics to gain further ground in reality, everyone needs to seriously examine just where the control should be lessened, and to which degree. Let’s not forget that piracy of all kinds still exists in the world today. Whether the pirate rips off someone from the Command & Control model or steals the unprotected work of the Great Collective in order to sell it for a profit back on the Command & Control side of the economic fence, it’s still an act of Piracy. Add in the tendency now to build entrepreneurial business models almost exclusively around the Wikinomics model and you start to run the risk of being -too- open and -too- sharing for our own good.

Luckily, the legal community has already provided us with some level of protection, in the form of Creative Commons licenses. Interestingly enough, Tapscott and Williams mentioned Bill Gates in specific as disliking the very notion of Creative Commons (Wikinomics, 2006). Let’s examine why.

Creative Commons Licenses vs. Command & Control

In order for Wikinomics to really take hold, it relies strongly on the idea of the Creative Commons, or the common body of assets/knowledge/intellectual property which are intentionally put up for share among the rest of the online community. Creative assets, to which everyone holds as part of the Common copyright. There is a website for the non-profit organization called ‘Creative Commons’ which explains it more in depth. However, essentially what the artists, authors, and content generators of the new online community can do is develop a license which asserts legal protection to their work, and allows them to specify what levels of openness and sharing are allowed when working from that source material.

What this does is creates a pool of knowledge and assets whose originators (and therefore, under law, whose ‘owners’) are voluntarily allowing to be shared. Over time, with sufficient participants and content generation, the Creative Commons would create an essentially free resource for use by the community under minimal restrictions set by their originators. Why buy the milk from Command & Control authority models when you can source (and share, and remix, and repurpose in many cases) the cow for free?

A Task of Interpretation

Wikinomics only works when a significant body of users embrace its principles and take pains to share assets within the great collaborative whole. The interesting thing is that customers and end-users have been gleefully adopting exactly such a habit of support, some (like me) actually revelling in the fact that commonly-held assets directly empowers society, not corporations. While I enjoy getting corporate paychecks, it’s time that we wrestled back some control and allowed competition in the marketplace model to exist not just between companies, but between companies and individuals alike.  The internet seriously levels many playing fields of access and communication, so it’s only natural that the Command & Control thinking is under serious attack.

This isn’t to insist on blindly following some charismatic dogma foisted upon us by Yet Another “Business Guru” or two. There is a real task ahead of us if we’re going to continue to develop and support the model of Wikinomics as a general platform for the future. We need to not only study and understand the way in which the collective global users are moving into this new model, we need to examine how to transition off of the legacy business models to make best use of this growing transition.

Bitten, and Hard

With all of this said, however, I’m all for the Wikinomics model. In fact, I can’t believe I’ve slept this long through the greatest social revolution of my lifetime!  Please understand that I’m a member of Generation X, right smack in the middle of it (born in 1971). I’ve come to hate the Baby Boomer’s generation just out of principle, since they started a social revolution and then quit once things actually got tough and looked like they required sacrifice. I’ve felt a little bad about not adopting the model of revolution that raises nothing but hackles. And I’m happy to say that this kind of social reorganization is something in which I see vast potential. I’m ready to join my cause, especially since real change is already coming about because of it.

The difficulty lies in finding that balance, and finding a way to avoid being totally ripped off in the process. There’s a level of trust in the collaborative process, but it would be nice if we could avoid the “…died penniless” epitaph. 

 Still, I have to say, the application of the Wikinomic model has definitely caught my interest. I’m already considering developing a white paper which outlines a way to completely revise the traditional Creative Agency model so that it works more on the principles of Wikinomics and less on the Command & Control structure. If I can find out how to streamline profits and increase ROI, I think I’ll have a meal ticket right there.  Of course it’ll be circulated as part of the Creative Commons, though. In a very real way, I have to trust in the ideology that the collective efforts of bored geniuses all around the globe will be able to open up possibilities beyond what I can see. And at its heart, that spirit of trust and cooperation is what Wikinomics is trying to build into the very way that the world does business.

Anyone want to start singing songs from Hair? No singing? That’s okay… I’ve got a kickin’ mashup between Sesame Street, Marilyn Manson, and Madonna to ‘Age of Aquarius’ I’ll share with you.

Okay, I don’t, but hopefully you get the point. The future is here. As Tapscott and Williams (Wikinomics, 2006) said,

“A power shift is underway, and a tough new business rule is emerging: Harness the new collaboration, or perish.”

References

  • Tapscott, D. & Williams, A. (2006). Wikinomics (Intro & chap. 1). New York: Portfolio.
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One response to “Wikinomics: the Online Countercultural Movement

  1. exploringinteractivecommunication

    Interesting post. What is your opinion of what will happen with the future of Wikinomics?

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