Tuesday Nov. 30, Economics

Reading discussion led by Hugo and Kevin.

1 Comment so far

  1. H on November 30th, 2010

    DFE 10 / Economics

    Lead by: Hugo and Kevin
    Tapscott, D., and Williams A. (2006), Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, Portfolio, Chapter 1 and Chapter 5.

    Optional Readings
    Walker, R. (2007), Handmade 2.0, New York Times Magazine, (Dec. 16, 2007)
    Anderson, C., (2006), The long tail: Why the future of business is selling less of more, Hyperion, a bit of the introduction + Chapters 1, 2, and 4

    The Commerce of Collaboration

    In Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything Tapscott and Williams celebrate the power of mass collaboration: crowdsourcing, and its expected effects on future consumer markets. They describe the forces (openness, peering, sharing, and acting globally) that lead to “weapons of mass collaboration” and showcase various examples of companies and leaders who embrace and copy linux-like models of production that lead to success and fortune.

    The authors are not subtle. They choose to highlight the GoldCorp Challenge (a mining company that literally finds more gold reserves after opening up geological datasets to the world) and other success stories like Innocentive and Current TV.

    Radical collaboration is made possible by heretofore unprecedented advances in telecommunications that in turn lead to faster cycles of innovation and product breakthroughs. This unstoppable groundswell of open collaboration marks the end of “hierarchy” based systems in favor of “peering” and “sharing” models. Wikinomics does not flesh out in detail possible critiques of massively open collaboration and its consequences but acknowledges that in some cases collaboration can lead to “anonymous tide(s) of mass mediocrity” and interoperability problems between technologies and platforms. We need look no further than the critically panned Hollywood movie Snakes on a Plane, an uber crowd-sourced movie production, to recognize possible shortcoming of creative acts designed through unfettered crowd-collaboration.

    Today’s moment in disruptive technology is different from previous paradigm shifts (Gutenberg press, automobile, telegraph etc.) due to its speed and all encompassing magnitude. Previous disruptive technologies were “plan and push” but today advances in collaboration is more akin to “engage and co-create”: “[w]e must collaborate or perish – across borders, cultures, disciplines, and firms, and increasingly with masses of people at one time.”

    Tapscott and Williams cite Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture and Remix and outlines a theory for “prosumers”; consumers adept at hacking products and services to fulfill their needs and in so doing inspire faster innovation. This theory of customers as co-innovators can be strengthened by Von Hippel’s “lead-users”, an earlier awareness and study of this trend that more fully embraces “pro-sumer communities” such as Lego’s Mindstorms and Make and Craft magazines also celebrated by Wikinomics.

    Mechanics of Collaboration

    The so-called Prosumption Principles; losing control, creation of customer tool-kits, peer-production, and “fruit sharing”, as outlined in Wikinomics, lead to the prosumption dilemma. This dilemma refers to the inherent conflict, at least for commercial interests, whereby free reign to hack products and services inevitably cannibalizes traditional business models. The authors discuss this dilemma along with Creative Commons and other tools and precedents in the collaboration ecology. No clear answers exists, yet, but in the absence of other options companies and makers are encouraged to ‘join or lead prosumer communities”.

    In Handmade 2.0 Rob Walker chronicles the resurgent growth of craft movements in America from manifesto to craftsmanship economies driven by “indiepreneurs”. Kalin, the young founder of Etsy.com, shares his view of the craft movement and how it fits into a post-industrial world:

    Kalin is nothing if not grandiose about what he thinks Etsy can accomplish. For example, he knows that individual crafters face a problem of scale: there is only so much one person can produce. (Hence the Industrial Revolution.) So he mentions creating “co-production” sites across the country, where groups of crafters would band together in a co-op-style model, ideally occupying space in distressed areas and offering training to people who want to learn handcrafting skills. Handmade isn’t a fad, he told me, it’s a resurgence, one that is of a piece with the booming interest in organic food. In 25 years, he said, Etsy would be both worldwide and personal, a global-local marketplace, a Web version of the Athenian agora.

    The New York Times story reads, at times, more like a how-to of DIY consumer markets and outlines for “steps” that may lead to Etsy’s success and that may prove helpful for similar ventures:

    STEP 1: Weave Do-It-Yourself Spirit Into a Community
    STEP 2: Embroider With Webbiness
    STEP 3: Stitch Together Ideals and Entrepreneurialism
    STEP 4: Sell

    Etsy, and the greater American offline craft communities and markets, is growing and searching for a narrative to fit into the a world economy. An economy that its predecessors once dominated. There is much talk of an art enthused movement and, in light of recent political and economic changes and recessions, idealogical motivations, but at its heart the handmade movement creates meaning through work:

    Listening to the discussions at the Craft Congress, it seemed to me that while there’s a case to be made that this is an art movement, or an ideological movement, or a shopping movement, it is also — and probably fundamentally — a work movement.

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