Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, provides an excellent overview of the technologies and trends that are so disruptive in the Web 2.0 world. While traveling today to the Frost & Sullivan Sales & Marketing East Executive MindXChange, I had the opportunity to listen to the first couple of chapters of the Audible.com unabridged audiobook version of Wikinomics.
I had previously listened to the whole book on one weekend when I had lots of yard work to do. The upside of audiobooks is you can listen to them while you’re doing something else. The downside is it’s hard to take notes when you’re holding a power washer, so it takes a second listen to get maximum benefit. But at least you know where the highlights are.
Let me share a few.
The Wikinomics authors, who also maintain a companion blog and wiki, see four great trends shaping the 21st century landscape:
Openness – As exemplified by Rob McEwen, the CEO of the gold mining company Goldcorp, who made his company’s geologic data available to the world to get bright people from outside his company to help find more gold deposits on company property. By providing the data and $575,000 in prize money, he enlisted more than 1,000 virtual prospectors, who helped find targets that yielded 8 million ounces of gold, turning his company from a $100 million business to $9 billion concern.
Peer production, or Peering – Getting masses of individuals to collaborate openly, as exemplified by Wikipedia. The Apache server and the Linux operating system are among the other varied examples of peer production the authors cite.
Frankly, Tapscott and Williams are too deferential to laments from Bill Gates and others that peer production eliminates the profit-making opportunity for businesses and other purveyors of intellectual property. The answer to that (and the authors should have been stronger about this) is: SO WHAT? (Please forgive my shouting.) There may be economic disruptions and dislocations if open-source software like Linux or Apache displaces proprietary software like Windows, but people like Gates with entrenched interests forget that the ability to make money isn’t a divinely ordained right or the ultimate societal good. What matters to users of software or services is the cost of a product or service and its value.
Businesses exist for their customers, not vice versa. If someone (or an organized group of volunteers, as in Wikipedia) provides a service for free that was previously expensive, that’s a good thing. People can then spend their money to buy other services, so they get the formerly expensive product plus something else, as the societal bonus of Wikinomics.
When the Berlin Wall fell, political leaders and journalists talked about the “Peace Dividend“: if we as a society didn’t have to spend as much money on defense, we could spend it on other good things.
The same is true today. For example, craigslist is a great service for its users, enabling them to place free classified ads (in many communities) for everything from rentals to job postings to personals to items for sale, such as theatre tickets. It’s terribly disruptive for newspapers, which formerly milked the cash cow of classified advertising.
Does it hurt newspapers? Certainly. Is that a problem? If you own or work for a newspaper. Will western civilization crumble because of it? Hardly. Instead of paying several thousand dollars for a job posting classified ad in the newspaper, companies can post to Monster.com for a few hundred dollars, or craigslist for free. The companies can then invest the savings in other areas important to their growth.
That’s the “Wikinomics Dividend.”
The other two trends the authors examine are Sharing and Acting Globally. But instead of discussing them in a post that’s already too long, let me suggest that you get the book yourself.
The key value of Wikinomics is in providing broad trend overviews. The examples used, from Flickr to YouTube to MySpace aren’t the main point. Future competitors may one day render these irrelevant, too.
If you’re looking for the latest new thing, Wikinomics isn’t the place to find it; it is, after all, an old-media tree-killing production. But Wikinomics does give the theoretical framework upon which to build your understanding of changes in today’s economy.