The Wealth of Networks: How social production transform Markets and Freedom

Yochai Benkler

Internet technology is projecting old social practices - social production of information, knowledge and culture - to new futures by expanding collaboration in vast networked social networks, in non market value generation context (NMVG), to deliver simple or highly sophisticated and complex products and services .

Why?
Because the internet is providing new capacities to everybody that can access it:
  1. Global access to an open incommensurable web.
  2. Browsers to navigate it.
  3. Search engines to target potentially meaningful and valuable sites.
  4. Relevant content in an incredible range of topics and formats: texts, pics, maps, graphics, videos.
  5. Relevant services to communicate, coordinate, manage, or lead communal initiatives.
  6. Relevant exchange markets to interchange valuable services or products.

What is new?
The internet has enabled the ancient human practices of non market value generation to an extent in which it is giving birth to masterpieces that challenge some traditional market value generation practices. Where?
  1. Open Source software initiatives are delivering open and often free high quality software to run a in a simple PC or in a Servers Farm, in real-time embedded software or in set of desktop applications.
  2. Wikipedia with its vast network of collaborators shaping our language with incredible quality, diversity and openness.
  3. Interesting and or controversial experiences of networked collaboration: future markets -the wisdom of crowds-, crowd sourcing - mechanic turk or assigment zero-, getsatisfaction.com, delicious.com, digg.com...and a myriad of networking muchups empowering social innovations, political action, or citizen media.
  4. MMORPG related virtual worlds, Second Life,...
An emergent new political balance between networked market value and networked not market value activities is at stake.

What it is the hope?
At the beginning of the XXI century we are hitting the end of what Benkler call "industrial information era". One of the product of this era is a capitalism business system that requires significant physical investment to operate and that works with massive externatilites that modern democracies have failed to manage. Symptoms of that failure are social fragmentation, non-human depletion, multiple forms of destructive social violence. The systematic bias to solve these situations in favor of powerful business&political networks has lead to name current capitalistic practices as predatory capitalism. This predatory capitalism has extended its reach toward the non market value generation -particularly in the production of information, knowledge, and culture - by forcing the use of a narrow understanding of property and intellectual property. Specific cases are music distribution and file sharing, patents of genetic code [?] generated from native species, patenting cultural practices [?].

The internet technologies are affecting economics of transactional cost - as suggested by Coase's theory of firms - playing as a favorable force in the development of more descentralized and autonomous coordination of the value generation activiites.

Where is the struggle?
The hype view: the internet is empowering non market value generation, creating new forms of collaboration and promoting new forms of intellectual property - GPL (General Public Licensing), CC (Creative Commons)- that are going to reinvigorate the common, bring forth transparency and traceability across social activities, and succeed in dealing with the externalities of predatory capitalism. A new healthier networked capitalism will emerge.

The pragmatic view: traditional capitalistic practices to introduce order and hierarchies in the internet, its collaborative communities, and its emerging virtual worlds is massive. They will define, legislate and enforce traditional IP regulations. They will resist internet neutrality. They will enforce the rules of the molecular world inside the virtual worlds. Most likely, on one extreme, new non market value initiatives will grow and gain a solid space in human communities from now on, they will be new, marginal, influential, innovative. On the other extreme, we will have traditional corporations, traditional media, traditional lobbyist, and traditional modern institutions incorporating blogs, wikis, crowd-sourcing and mush-ups platforms to maintain and develop new relations with their current and potential markets. Nothing will change substantialy in our capitalistic business game, however, new more efficient practices to integrate the customer as a producer in the consumption cycle will emerge.