Cumulus Partners

2. May 2010 16:49

Reading "The Wealth of Networks"

2. May 2010 16:49 by mike barlow | 6 Comments

I interviewed Don Peppers last week for my upcoming book on corporate social media strategy and I wanted to pass along Don's recommendation of Yochai Benkler's great book, "The Wealth of Networks." Benkler offers a detailed analysis of the economics driving the "networked information economy" and it's worth reading for anyone involved in Internet-based publishing. As an old newspaperman, I was especially fascinated by his explanation of how the Internet has fundamentally replaced the printing press and why the concept of "intellectual property" is already dated. I find the book absolutely brilliant. Don, thanks!

Comments (6) -

Interestingly, non-monetary "exchange" may prove pretty hard for governments to tax and regulate. Which may be one more factor that accelerates the movement of people in this direction. After all, enterprise always tends to move toward the least taxed and regulated areas of the economy. Am I on track?  

Mike, I think Benkler's work is nothing short of a landmark treatise on how the electronically interconnected society we are now building will transform not just our economic system but our very existence.  Today, we all know about open-source software like Linux, or Mozilla, or Apache, for instance, and we know about user-generated content like YouTube and Flickr.  We know about sharing and collaboration sites like Digg and Reddit and StumbleUpon, we all participate in sharing information and insights on social sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, and we all benefit from totally free information sites like Wikipedia, created by nearly half a million unpaid volunteers, and from customer service sites where the vast majority of questions are answered by other customers.  If you put all this activity together, with the rate of growth we've seen in just the last decade, you'll see that in maybe 20 or 40 years, NON-MONETARY production may actually surpass the monetary economy, in terms of how much value is actually created!  This, I find to be an astounding idea, completely amazing to contemplate.  People will still work for money, but they will also increasingly compete for prestige, status, recognition and fulfillment outside the actual monetary economic system.  If your readers find this as interesting an idea as I do, they should get Benkler's amazing book and read it.  Now.

Thank you for bringing this book to my attention. I want to read it! The notion of so people ordering their lives around what fulfills them fascinates me. That unpaid efforts may someday outpace monetary productivity really is exciting. I imagine Benkler's work complements ideas in another great read -- "Linchpin," Seth Godin's latest book. The premise: people don't have to be "cogs in the machinery of capitalism." "Linchpins," he writes, "invent, lead (regardless of title), connect others, make things happen and create order out of chaos. They figure out what to do when there's no rule book. They delight and challenge their customers and peers. They love their work, pour their best selves into it, and turn each day into a kind of art." I haven't finished reading it yet, but when I'm done, I'm getting hold of Benkler's book.

I've read Seth's book, Beverly, and I agree with you mostly.  But this particular idea - the idea of the non-monetary economy based on networked human beings collaborating and serving each other for the satisfaction of it - has more to do with the impact of all these connecting technologies on our productive system, i.e., the way we actually create value.  My opinion is that Seth's book is more based on what an individual can do, himself or herself, to make a difference and sort of "take charge" of their own life.  

And Britton, your idea that the absence of a tax regime might speed the adoption of this kind of non-monetary production is super-interesting, I hadn't really thought of that.  I suppose, ultimately, that this would be a factor, but I'm not sure that people who contribute to Wikipedia or who upload or download videos on YouTube, or who code improvements into open-source software are conscious themselves of the "non taxable" nature of their volunteer efforts.  As long as there is no tax on human fulfillment (God help us!), my guess is the non-montary economy is destined to grow!

Mike - thanks for this it sounds like I need to go shopping!  More importantly, when will your interview with Don publish?

Hi Rebecca - The book featuring Don's comments will appear in January 2011, assuming, of course that I keep drinking lots of coffee and never sleep. Let's chat again soon!

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