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The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom Paperback – Oct 23 2007

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1 edition (Oct. 23 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300125771
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300125771
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 3.2 x 23.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 726 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #115,661 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

In this thick academic book, Yale law professor Benkler offers a comprehensive catalog of flashpoints in the conflict between old and new information creators. In Benkler's view, the new "networked information economy" allows individuals and groups to be more productive than profit-seeking ventures. New types of collaboration, such as Wikipedia or SETI@Home, "offer defined improvements in autonomy, democratic discourse, cultural creation, and justice"-as long as government regulation aimed at protecting old-school information monoliths (such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) doesn't succeed. Non-market innovation is a good thing in itself and doesn't even have to threaten entrenched interests, Benkler argues; rather, "social production" can use resources that the industrial information economy leaves behind. Where Benkler excels is in bringing together disparate strands of the new information economy, from the democratization of the newsmedia via blogs to the online effort publicizing weaknesses in Diebold voting machines. Though Benkler doesn't really present any new ideas here, and sometimes draws simplistic distinctions, his defense of the Internet's power to enrich people's lives is often stirring.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A lucid, powerful, and optimistic account of a revolution in the making."-Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of "The Anarchist in the Library"

"At last a book that confronts the politics and economics of the Internet in a fundamental way, moving beyond the surface of policy debate to reveal the basic structure of the challenges we confront."-Bruce Ackerman, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science, Yale University

"A magnificent achievement. Yochai Benkler shows us how the Internet enables new commons-based methods for producing goods, remaking culture, and participating in public life. "The Wealth of Networks" is an indispensable guide to the political economy of our digitally networked world."-Jack M. Balkin, Professor of Law and Director of the Information Society Project, Yale University
-- Jack M. Balkin

"In this book, Benkler establishes himself as the leading intellectual of the information age. Profoundly rich in its insight and truth, this work will be the central text for understanding how networks have changed how we understand the world. No work to date has more carefully or convincingly made the case for a fundamental change in how we understand the economy of society."-Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law, Stanford Law School

"At last a book that confronts the  politics and economics of the Internet in a fundamental way, moving beyond the surface of policy debate to reveal the basic structure of the challenges we confront."-Bruce Ackerman, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science, Yale University

"A magnificent achievement.  Yochai Benkler shows us how the Internet enables new commons-based methods for producing goods, remaking culture, and participating in public life.  "The Wealth of Networks" is an indispensable guide to the political economy of our digitally networked world."-Jack M. Balkin, Professor of Law and Director of the Information Society Project, Yale University 

"This deeply researched book documents the fundamental changes in the ways in which we produce and share ideas, information, and entertainment. Then, drawing widely on the literatures of philosophy, economics, and political theory, it shows why these changes should be welcomed, not resisted.  The trends examined, if allowed to continue, will radically alter our lives-and no other scholar describes them so clearly or champions them more effectively than Benkler."-William W. Fisher III, Hale and Dorr Professor of Intellectual Property Law, Harvard University, Director, Berkman Center for Internet and Society

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Amazon.com: HASH(0xa6249a08) out of 5 stars 16 reviews
109 of 115 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa789bf18) out of 5 stars Deep content, but terrible style Oct. 6 2006
By Stephen R. Laniel - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
First, I should note that The Wealth Of Networks is terribly edited. Given that Benkler thanked his editor for his Herculean work at the beginning of the book, I can only imagine the state it started in; as it is, it ended with glaring grammatical errors, including using "effect" when he meant "affect" and "wave" when he meant "waive". (I'll provide specific examples sometime tomorrow.) Editing, apparently, is a craft that is only noticed in its absence. I didn't realize this until I read The Wealth of Networks. By the time I was done with the book, I was copyediting every page.

None of this mentions the stylistic errors, which are rife. Benkler uses the first-person singular pronoun once, or possibly twice, in the whole book; its use is jarring. The rest is passively voiced and all the words are sesquipedalian. Nothing's wrong with inconsistency in style, when deployed artfully, but it feels more like an oversight here than a deliberate plan.

Those of you who've read the book will perhaps object to all this cavilling over style. Again, it's only noticeable because it's so bad; normally I would almost ignore the style and get to the meat of the argument. It was hard to do so here.

Benkler's argument is quite systematic and nearly has the force of pure logic. His claim -- propounded over a decade's worth of papers and synthesized in this book -- is that the new economics of the Internet fundamentally change deep parts of our culture. Cheap communication allows projects like Linux and the Wikipedia to emerge and more to the point work very well. Each of us can invest trivial amounts of our time and money, yet the end result is something much greater than any of us could have expected. Person A links to person B on his website, and lots of person A's follow along with their own person B's. Pretty soon there's enough information -- from our trivial little links alone -- that Google can come through and aggregate that information into a profoundly useful information-retrieval tool. Millions of people click on star ratings on Amazon, and pretty soon we can all get highly accurate suggestions about books we might like. I copyedit the Wikipedia, and so do hundreds of thousands of others; before long, the Wikipedia competes with Britannica.

Benkler's task is to take his understanding of what makes all this stuff tick, and think through the consequences. What does it mean for democracy when people can communicate cheaply? We're starting to get a taste of the answer with blogs. The media available for political discourse before the Net came around -- like television -- were passive. Someone else produced a lot of content at great cost, and pushed it out to a lot of stupid devices that couldn't really do anything interesting; televisions are "dumb terminals" for video. Now we can all be publishers for no cost, and the devices are smart enough that we can talk back and start conversations. Yes, we're still getting much of our news from old-media stalwarts like the New York Times, but the medium allows us to blog about it, post comments to others' blogs, and search around and see what others have said about it. All of this is possible because the publishing tools are getting easier, because communication is cheap, and because computers are increasingly available to everyone. We now have media that permit and encourage conversation; the old broadcast media never did.

In a world where communication is no longer passive, and where you don't need a multimillion-dollar television studio to get your ideas out to the world, democracy changes radically. For one thing, the fringes suddenly have a voice that they didn't have before. It's obvious, just from thinking for a moment about how mass media work, that they serve inoffensive pabulum to the least common denominator. If you can choose to broadcast a show that might offend people or upset them (say, displaying images from Abu Ghraib), or else broadcast the latest news about Brad and Jen, you will choose the latter in a heartbeat. The point in mass media is not to publish the widest array of views, but to maximize revenue. Maximizing revenue means appealing to the broadest mass of people, which in turn means being as inoffensive as possible.

It's not difficult to see that mass-market media incentives are quite different than the incentives that a democracy should strive for. Commercial interests are not our interests, orthodox capitalist training to the contrary. So what happens when media become non-commercial, like blogs? Suddenly you have millions of people who can get their ideas out to the world, and lots of things happen. For instance, it becomes clear to people that there's more than just the Republican Party and the Democratic Party -- or even Republicans, Democrats, Greens and Libertarians. The whole tone of the culture changes. Biting commentary gets airtime. We become active. We argue, like people in a democracy are supposed to.

All of this is not pie-in-the-sky idealism. As Benkler makes very clear, it's kind of inevitable. The axiom is basically this: people will do more of what's easy for them, and less of what's difficult. With the cost of communications technology now negligible, lots of things become easy.

The objection that not everyone is a blogger is irrelevant. It may in fact be true that the majority of Americans are passive dullards. Even if it is, the fact remains that there is a new set of technologies that let many of us do things that we couldn't have done before, and it would take willful blindness to believe that this leaves democracy unchanged.

Benkler builds out the argument in considerably more detail and considerably more verbosity. He wants you to understand what is likely to come out of all of this, what the challenges are, and where the promise may lead us. It's a tremendous synthesis.

Alas, it will take people like Larry Lessig to make Americans understand this promise; Benkler has confined himself to academia. As I may have mentioned, I've heard a lot of trashing on Lessig recently -- that he's a shallow thinker who wasn't even a good enough lawyer to win Eldred. I've heard Benkler's book described as a landmark that people will be discussing in 20 years. Allow me to disagree. I think Code is a much more important work, both for the ground it cleared and for its rhetorical power. I think Lessig's later book Free Culture could actually get people storming the gates of Disney, whereas Benkler will never.

More to the point, Benkler's work seems like much more of a look back than a plan for forward motion. If you already use Linux and have internalized its lessons, you hardly need the theory that Benkler gives you. If you have really thought about the Wikipedia, then you can skip over that chunk of his book. A copy of Code and a thorough understanding of the GPL will probably give you 90% of what The Wealth of Networks does.

In twenty years, The Wealth of Networks will stand as a very nice description of the world as it stood in 2006. Code will mark the beginning of a movement. As someone who is ensconced in that movement, I believe that everyone should have a copy of The Wealth of Networks on his shelf and a copy of Code in his pocket.
88 of 96 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa5e40024) out of 5 stars Manifesto for the 21st Century of Informed Prosperous Democracy Aug. 9 2006
By Robert David STEELE Vivas - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Edit of 14 Apr 08 to add links (feature not available at the time).

Lawrence Lessig could not say enough good things about this book when he spoke at Wikimania 2006 in Boston last week, so I ordered it while listening to him. It arrived today and I dropped everything to go through it.

This book could well be the manifesto for 21st Century of Informed Prosperous Democracy. It is a meticulous erudite discussion of why information should not be treated as property, and why the "last mile" should be built by the neighborhood as a commons, "I'll carry your bits if you carry mine."

The bottom line of this book, and I will cite some other books briefly, is that democracy and prosperity are both enhanced by shared rather than restricted information. The open commons model is the only one that allows us to harness the distributed intelligence of the Whole Earth, where each individual can made incremental improvements that cascade without restraint to the benefit of all others.

As I write this, both the publishing and software industries are in the midst of a "last ditch" defense of copyright and proprietary software. I believe they are destined to fail, and IBM stands out as an innovative company that sees the writing on the wall--see especially IBM's leadership in developing "Services Science."

The author has written the authoritative analytic account of the new social and political and financial realities of a networked world with information embedded goods. There have been earlier accounts--for example, the cover story of Business Week on "The Power of Us" with its many accounts of how Lego, for example, received 1,600 free engineering development hours from its engaged customers of all ages. Thomas Stewart's "The Wealth of Knowledge," Barry Carter's "Infinite Wealth," Alvin and Heidi Toffler's most recent "Revolutionary Wealth," all come to the same conclusion: you cannot manage 21st Century information-rich networks with 20th Century industrial control models.

Lawrence Lessig says it best when he speaks of the old world as "Read Only" and the new world as "Read-Write" or interactive. His fulsome praise for this author and this book suggest that the era of sharing and voluntary work has come of age.

On that note, I wish to observe that those who label the volunteers who craft Wikis including the Wikipedia as "suckers" are completely off-base. The volunteers are the smartest of the smart, the vanguard for a new economy in which bartering and sharing displace centralized financial and industrial control. Indeed, with the localization of energy, water, and agriculture, this book by this author could not be more important or timelier.

One final supportive anecdote, this one from the brilliant Michael Eisen, champion of open publishing. He captured the new paradigm perfectly at Wikimania when he likened the current publishing environment as one in which scientists give birth to babies, the publishers play a mid-wifery role, and then claim that as midwives, they have a perpetual right to the babies and will only lease them back to the parents. What a gloriously illuminating analogy this is.

I will end by tying this book and this author to C.K. Prahalad's "The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid." That other book focuses on the fact that the five billion poor are actually worth four trillion in disposable income, versus the one billion rich worth one trillion. C.K. Prahalad posits a world in which capitalism stops focusing on making disposable high-end high cost goods, and turns instead to making sustainable low-cost goods. I see the day coming when--the avowed goal of the Wiki Foundation--there is universal free access to all information in all languages all the time.

If Marx and his Communist Manifesto were the tipping point for communism, this book is the tipping point for communal moral capitalism. Yochai Benkler is--along with Stewart Brand, Howard Rheingold, Bruce Sterling, Kevin Kelly, Lawrence Lessig, Jimbo Wales, Ward Cunningham, Brewster Kahle, and Cass Sunstein, one of the bright shining lights in our constellation of change makers.

He ends his book on an optimistic note. Despite the craven collaboration of the U.S. Congress in extending copyright forever into the distant future, he posits a reversal of all these bad laws (it used to be legal to discriminate against women and people of color) by the combination of cultural, social, economic, and technical forces that have their own imperative. Would that it were so, sooner.

See also:
Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge
Infinite Wealth: A New World of Collaboration and Abundance in the Knowledge Era
Revolutionary Wealth: How it will be created and how it will change our lives
The Wealth of Knowledge: Intellectual Capital and the Twenty-first Century Organization
Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Power at the Edge of the 21st Century
The New Craft of Intelligence: Personal, Public, & Political--Citizen's Action Handbook for Fighting Terrorism, Genocide, Disease, Toxic Bombs, & Corruption
Information Operations: All Information, All Languages, All the Time
Peacekeeping Intelligence: Emerging Concepts for the Future
THE SMART NATION ACT: Public Intelligence in the Public Interest
Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace

I beg indulgence for listing five books I have published. I know you all know about Smart Mobs, Wisdom of the Crowds, Army of Davids, etc. See also the literature resilience, panarchy, and social entrepreneurship.

Peace (and prosperity) for all, in our time.
48 of 53 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa5e4451c) out of 5 stars This Book Proves the Adage that You See What You Look For July 8 2007
By Michael K. Bergman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I have been hearing about Yochai Benkler's book, "The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedoms," for some time and his exposition around what he (and many others) have called the "networked information economy." Benkler, a Yale law professor, also offers his 527 page (473 in text) book as a free PDF from his web site under a Creative Commons share alike license.

First, let me say, there are a couple of worthwhile insights in the book, which I'll get to in a moment. But mostly, I found the book overly long, often off-subject, and too political for my tastes. In fairness, some of this might be due to the fact it was written in 2005 (published in 2006) and the social and participatory aspects of the Web are now widely appreciated. Yet I fear the broader problem with this polemic is that it proves the adage that you see what you look for.

Benkler's argument is that cheap processors and the Internet have removed the physical constraints on effective information production. This is in keeping with the non-proprietary nature of information as a "nonrival" good, and is also leading to the democratization of information production and the emergence of large-scale peer-produced content. Benkler generally allies himself with the camp of technology optimists. His observations about trends and new developments from Ebay to Wikipedia to SETI@home and open source software are now commonly appreciated.

With the costs of information duplication and dissemination trending to zero, the limiting factor of production becomes human creativity and effort itself. But here, too, with hundreds of millions of Internet users, just a few hours of contributed content from each can easily swamp the ability of even the largest firms to compete. These trends to Benkler presage a "radical decentralization" of information production, and many other changes to the political economy and culture.

That radical changes in the nature of information production and authorship and even the role of traditional publishers or the media are underway is without question. Purposeful collaborations like Wikipedia are now clearly successful and were not forecasted by many.

The lens, however, in which Benkler looks at all of these trends is through the "modern" history of the mass media. Citing Paul Starr's "Creation of the Media," he notes how in 15 years from 1835 to 1850 the cost of setting up a mass-circulation paper increased from $10,000 to over $2 million (in 2005 dollars). In Benkler's view, these cost increases shifted the ability to publish away from the common citizen into the "problem" hands of the mass media. Fortunately, now with the Internet and cheap processors, this evil can be reversed. Though Benkler specifically disclaims that he is not describing "an exercise in pastoral utopianism," the fact is that is exactly what he is describing.

There can be no doubt that the role of mass media and traditional publishers is under severe challenge from the emergence of the Internet. It is also the case that we are witnessing citizen publishers and authors emerge by the millions. These changes are momentous, but they do not involve everyone -- only comparatively small percentages of Internet users blog and still smaller percentages contribute to Wikipedia (about 80,000 at present based on a user base of hundreds of millions). And, as the traditional gatekeepers of printers, publishers and editors lose prominence, new institutions and mechanisms for establishing the authoritativeness and trustworthiness of content will surely need to evolve.

These real trends deserve thoughtful exploration.

However, there is a reason that publishing costs increased so rapidly in that era of the 1800s. Mass publishing and pulp paper were emerging that acted to bring an increasing storehouse of content and information to the public at levels never before seen.

The explosion of information content that occurred at this very same time correlates well with the fundamental historical changes in human wealth and economic growth. Though mass media may prove to be an historical artifact, I would argue that its role in bringing literacy and information to the "masses" was generally an unalloyed good and the basis for an improvement in economic well being the likes of which had never been seen.

By taking a narrow historical horizon and then viewing it through the lens of the vilified "mass media," Benkler is both looking in the wrong direction and missing the point.

The information by which the means to produce and disseminate information itself is changing and growing. These changes in information infrastructure support an inexorable trend to more adaptability, more wealth and more participation. What we are seeing now with the Internet is but a natural continuation of that trend. The "mass media" and the costs of information production of the 1800s was a natural phase within this longer, historical trend. The multiplier effect of information itself will continue to empower and strengthen the individual, not in spite of mass media or any other ideologically based viewpoint but due to the freeing and adaptive benefits of information itself. Information is the natural antidote to entropy and, longer term, to the concentrations of wealth and power.

By trying to push the trends of the Internet through the false needle's eye of political economics, an effort that Benkler also erroneously makes with his earlier analysis of the growth of radio, what are in essence historical forces of almost informational or technological determinism are falsely presented as matters of political choice. Hogwash.

Benkler, however, does observe two useful dimensions for measuring social collaboration efforts: modularity and granularity. By modularity, Benkler means "a property of a project that describes the extent to which it can be broken down into smaller components, or modules, that can be independently produced before they are assembled into a whole." By granularity, Benkler means "the size of the modules, in terms of the time and effort that an individual must invest in producing them."

Benkler's insight is that "the number of people who can, in principle, participate in a project is therefore inversely related to the size of the smallest scale contribution necessary to produce a usable module. The granularity of the modules therefore sets the smallest possible individual investment necessary to participate in a project. If this investment is sufficiently low, then incentives" for producing that component of a modular project can be of trivial magnitude. Most importantly for our purposes of understanding the rising role of nonmarket production, the time can be drawn from the excess time we normally dedicate to having fun and participating in social interactions."

To illustrate this effect of granularity, he contrasts Wikipedia with its simple entries and editing and bounded topics with the far-less successful Wikibooks, which has much larger granularity.

Creators of social collaboration sites are advised to keep granularity small to encourage broader contributions, and if the nature of the site is complex, to increase the number of its modules. Of course, none of this guarantees the magic or timing that also lie behind the most successful sites!

I think that Benkler's arguments could have been more effectively distilled into a 30-page article, with much of the political economy claptrap thrown out. The book is definitely worth a skim.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa5e44a38) out of 5 stars Connectivization April 20 2007
By doomsdayer520 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Be forewarned that this brilliantly conceived book is not so brilliantly written, and the reading can be a real slog at times. Yochai Benkler is a perceptive social theorist but his thoughts are bogged down in academic writing that could really use some editing. Expect excessive introducing, foreshadowing, recapping, and summarizing, giving you the often tiresome impression that you will read Benkler's prose again or have read it before. This book also suffers from what business strategists and military tacticians would call "scope creep," as Benkler's broad theories on society and knowledge become so all-inclusive as to border on diffuseness and ineffectiveness - a problem that really slows down the middle section of the book. This is a common difficulty for vast unified theories about information and humanity, so prepare for some difficulty in following the main points that Benkler is trying to make.

But now that those warnings are out of the way, beneath Benkler's ponderous prose are insightful theories about the rise of networked culture, inspired by the digital revolution, in the face of lockdowns from entrenched power players. The initial uses of open networks inspired a megalomaniacal reaction from the industrial and political sectors, which have partially succeeded in forcing technological design changes, and persecution of new cultural behaviors, that threatened their economic and political dominance. For instance, intellectual property laws (patents, trademarks, and copyrights), which were originally meant to encourage cultural production, have been transformed by power players into tools to enforce corporate profitability. And if you think concerns over those trends are merely alarmism, Benkler provides profound evidence that damage really is being done to culture, freedom, and democracy - in ways that are far deeper and more troubling than the (corporate-inspired) popular rhetoric around piracy, rolyalties, and hackers.

Benkler informatively differentiates the types of freedom that are at stake - personal, cultural, social, and political - and ably demonstrates how each are affected by trends in infrastructure development, media behavior, corporate profiteering, and political gamesmanship. One especially winning chapter deals with how the rising network society can promote justice and development in third world areas that are not currently connected and may never be. The corporate and political insistence on regulating the information infrastructure and criminalizing user behaviors may represent a losing battle against the basic human drive to network and create, as can be seen in trends like open source software and community wi-fi. Benkler's main point here (when you're finally able to uncover it) is that humanity may be on the brink of a major change in the way we process culture and information, thanks to the growth in open worldwide networks. The old school power players won't go without a fight, adding unnecessary strife to the process, but Benkler has faith in humanity's ability to transform and rise above [~doomsdayer520~]
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa5e44a50) out of 5 stars Excellent and Insightful Articulation Jan. 10 2007
By Guillermo Wechsler - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I highly recommend reading Yochai Benkler's book.

It is a balanced articulation of what the Internet and Web 2.0 are enabling in the development of new forms of social collaboration that are not adequately recognized as such by both private/regulated market advocates and welfare advocates. One of the things that struck me most is Benkler's capacity to create a perspective in which he can show that these new forms of collectives are rooted in old practices that have existed forever.

He also shows that these practices can gain major significance if:

1. The neutrality of the web, access to the web, Open Source initiatives, and the General Public Licensing type of legislation are improved,

2. The aggressive move toward Intellectual Property laws and regulations, and control by corporations, is counter-balanced.

Excellent read!