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Helpful Summary of Early On-Line Mass Collaborations
on April 6, 2007
Think of this book more as reporting of where the world was in 2005 than analysis and direction for the future. But Wikinomics is a helpful resource to have, for most people are unaware of the extent to which self-organization through mass communication is being developed. Some of the successes are spectacular like the Goldcorp contest to locate more gold (which I described in The Ultimate Competitive Advantage in 2003) and Procter & Gamble's astonishing efforts to acquire technology from outside the organization (which I describe in The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution).
The strength of the book is that several different aspects of on-line mass collaborations are developed including:
1. Open collaborations to produce collective results not owned by anyone including Wikipedia and Linux.
2. Accessing more expert knowledge through idea markets (such as Goldcorp and P&G have done).
3. Customers being able to participate in detailed customization past what the vendor facilitates (basically a blurring of company-customer boundaries).
4. Knowledge transfer among the scientific community.
5. Methods of opening access to partners, especially for complementary software development.
6. Global production methods.
7. New ways of facilitating work in combination with those outside the organization.
If you are like me, you'll learn about some examples that you didn't before and find yourself feeling better informed.
The book has two annoying qualities that you should be aware of. First, the authors are very generous with each other in giving credit for ideas generated in the nondigital world by others. Second, there is a gushiness about the potential that isn't nuanced enough to reflect the problems that need to be solved. As a result, the inexperienced reader will get a sense that each opportunity is equally easy to grasp. That's clearly not true. In addition, the psychology of where which approaches will and won't work are mostly alluded to rather than developed. Building mass collaboration around enlightened self-interest is quite different from doing so built around more purely altruistic purposes.
I suspect the book would have worked better if the authors had written a series of books that developed each perspective further. Certainly, the global contest concept for for-profit enterprises is a proven area that almost anyone can do. That topic deserved more emphasis and explanation. Instead, you get a newspaper-level discussion of the topic.
I have not read a better book on this subject (but there may well be one I've missed) and I suspect Wikinomics will be one of the standards in on-line mass collaborations.