When I glanced through the list of publications to be reviewed for the third assignment on the Hyperlinked Library MOOC I realized that Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D Williams was already in my bookshelves, but I hadn’t got around to reading it. The assignment therefore provided the motivation to take it down from the shelf and put my feet up while I skimmed through the book.
The notes I made were written seven years after the book was published. And as the book has had a significant impact I feel that I am familiar with the core concepts without having opened the book. The book’s sub-title “How mass collaboration changes everything” provides a summary of my expectations of the content of the book. It will, I felt, provide a variety of anecdotes of how exploitation of social media and associated principles (such as the Web 2.0 ideas of ‘always beta‘ and ‘trust the users‘) will be shown to have had beneficial effects.
By page 2 the rhetoric, however, was beginning to grate. The statement “this new economic model extends beyond software, music, publishing, pharmaceuticals, and other bellwethers to virtually every part of the global economy” was followed by an admission that “many managers have concluded that the new mass collaboration is far from benign“. And yet in the following paragraph such concerns are dismissed: “Yes, there are examples of pain and suffering in industries that have so far failed to grasp the new economic logic. But the forthcoming pages are filled with many tales of how ordinary people and forms are linking up in imagine ways to drive innovation and success“. The concerns that exploitation of new social technologies may not always have beneficial effects is dismissed with the comments that those who may have such reservations simply “fail to grasp the new economic logic“. However there is no need to be too concerned about such clearly flawed views as the holders of such views have only “so far” failed to accept the new reality. I wonder what fate will await those who continue to hold views which are less than gushing about the new environment!
What companies are helping to build this ‘brave new world’? I’m still reading page 2 and I’m hearing how “a number of the stories revolve around the explosive growth of phenomena such as MySpace, InnoCentive, flickr, Second Life, YouTube and the Human Genome Project“. MySpace, Second Life? Looking at TechCrunch articles on MySpace I find posts which describe how “Obviously MySpace has very few friends left to alienate — Tom has long since moved on — but that hasn’t stopped it annoying the hell out of its few remaining fans by forcing through an update to its shiny new music discovery platform that’s swallowed their old blog content, with no guarantee it’s ever going to be retrievable” (12 June 2013) and “MySpace Squandered the Only Thing It Had Left” (2 Feb 2013).
But since the authors’ arguments were based on the role of mass collaboration to stimulate innovation, creativity and growth it would be inappropriate to place too much emphasis on the failures of specific companies. By page three the authors had described how they had carried out large-scale surveys which “explored how new technology and collaborative models change business designs and competitive dynamics“. Of course the authors expressed no reservations in summarizing the reports: “The conclusion from all of this work is striking and enormously positive. Billions of connected individuals can now actively participate in innovation, wealth creation, and social development in ways we once only dreamed of.”
So the large numbers who update their Facebook profile with their views on the contestants on X-Factor on a Saturday night or engage in discussions on Twitter about Strictly Come Dancing will, I assume, be classed as actively participating in ‘social development’. But whilst it may be inappropriate to be dismissive of popular culture (after all, I watched Coronation Street and listened to The Archers for many years) what of the bullying, racial abuse and similar ways in which social media is being used? Where does this fit in with Tapscott and Williams’ utopian views?
They are, however, on safer ground when they point out the innovation and wealth creation surrounding popular social media services. Clearly companies such as Google and Facebook (who, incidentally, aren’t mentioned in the book) have developed innovative services and do make lots of money. But how do they make their money? From advertising and monetized the attention data from the large numbers of users who access their services. We do not seem to be seeing a sharing of the wealth creation but rather centralization. You may welcome this (‘it’s what capitalism is about’) or be critical (‘technological developments should provide benefits to all’). But you won’t find such issues being addressed in the book.
The book was published in 2006, before the economic crash. I wonder if there was another book written at the same time which described the wealth creation which marketing of sub-prime mortgages was responsible for?!
The book concludes with the question “Is your mind wired for wikinomics?” Perhaps it is; after all I am happy to make use of social media to support my professional activities and share approaches with my user communities. But this doesn’t mean I’m right. Or that what works for me necessarily works for others and in different circumstances.
To summarise the book in a tweet “Wikinomics: optimistic view of social media from 2006. It is now time to revisit benefits of mass collaboration with a critical perspective.“.