Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom is a very exciting book. It captures an important set of developments – how new information technologies make it easier for individuals to collaborate in producing cultural content, knowledge, and other information goods. It draws links across apparently disparate subject areas to present a theory of how these technologies are reshaping opportunities for social action. Finally, it presents a highly attractive vision of what society might be like if we allow these technologies to flourish, as well as the political obstacles which may prevent these technologies from reaching their full potential. If you’re interested in debates on Creative Commons, on Wikipedia, on net neutrality, or any of a whole host of other issues, this is an essential starting point.
We’ve put together a seminar on the book, which we hope will help spur discussion around it in the blogosphere. This is an important debate. In a (long overdue) departure from previous seminars that I and others have organized at CT, we hope to include other blogs more directly in the discussion than in the past. We’ll do this by borrowing an idea from Will Wilkinson, and using this post to link to blogs which we think make substantial contributions to this set of arguments (nb that my definition of substantial is necessarily an idiosyncratic one). The material from this seminar is also available under a Creative Commons license (the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License) for others to re-use and add to in creative ways. The seminar is available both as a PDF and as an .rtf file for easier reading and re-use.
The contributions are in the order that they are mentioned in Benkler’s response. Henry Farrell argues that not only formal institutions but also informal norms are necessary for these technologies to enable proper collaboration. Dan Hunter celebrates the book, but worries that it covers too many topics, and that it’s written in language that non-academic readers may have difficulty in understanding. John Quiggin examines the underlying motivations behind the production of common resources, and suggests that Benkler’s arguments point to major flaws in innovation policy. Eszter Hargittai suggests that inequalities in the ability to participate may mean that these new technologies won’t do as much to flatten social hierarchies as they might seem to. Jack Balkin claims that Benkler’s book isn’t so much about new modes of cooperation replacing market mechanisms, as existing side-by-side with them. Siva Vaidhyanathan argues that Benkler’s book is guilty of a soft form of technological determinism, which overemphasizes the positive consequences of new technologies and implicitly discounts the less positive. Finally, Yochai Benkler responds to all of the above.
As with previous seminars, please don’t comment on this introductory post, except to point out formatting glitches etc that need to be taken care of. If you have general responses, you should leave them in the comments section of Benkler’s post. If you have specific responses to individual posts, of course leave them in the comments sections for those posts. Finally, if you wish to link to this seminar from your own blog, please link to the introductory post (as this links in turn to all the contributions).