Saturday, August 30, 2008

Wikinomics How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams

Wikinomics How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams

This book is about the new world of shared digital information production. It has a lot of spin and hype in the writing, but at the same time it reveals many new ideas. The book is quite entertaining to read and well written. It has a nice exuberant feeling to the writing which is clearly tech evangelist oriented.

With wikis, blogs, and other mass forms of internet communications we have become the producers of a large slice of our own media. Large chunks of the publishing world have been freed up from direct corporate control and formed it communities of production. Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can start creating their own content. This has extended beyond computers to include peripheral devices tethered to computers like camcorders, iphones, and similar things. The book does not talk a lot about this a lot, however.

Suddenly content can be shared in various spaces like Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, and Blogger. I belong to all four of these spaces. More importantly, the content is syndicated and connected together with advertising like Technorati, Entrecard, and other services. Everyone participating in a sense becomes a producer of content.

This has not just extended into the public spaces like blogs and wikis, but has also moved into corporations and universities. This is not as visible to most social networking users. The book covers the use of collaborative technologies in corporations and universities. Things like open source software, patent and idea sharing networks like and Innocentive, and modular open source style manufacturing are discussed. It even discusses MITs fab lab which is a modular home manufacturing center.

The book points out we have in a very real sense become the designers of our own products and the producers of our own media. People don't wait to have new features put into their Lego sets they send in custom designs to the factories, or hack new features into their Xboxes. When a news story comes on television it is often the result of someone catching it on camcorder or writing about it on a blog. Sometimes this is better than what the television shows produce.

Welcome to the new world of Wikinomics or massive collaboration. Those who produce the best content win. According to the book, it takes seven skilled people to build a world class content site. This can be done anywhere in the world where people have the skills and the internet connection. The internet runs in an "Always On" mode. (I am not an always on kind of person.) Step in and get ready to face obsolescence in a flash. This world is merciless, full of hype, and offers no guarantees.

Wikinomics is deep and complex. However, it fails to point out that some of the ideas in this book are flawed. For example, in touting the Boeing 787 Dreamliners, they don't acknowledge that for a while there were production problems for the plane. They had not gotten their open source form of sourcing parts together that well.

Also, I found the section on Geek Squad to be an extreme example of hype. I would not buy a computer from Best Buy and saying that Geek Squad are the best possible technicians seems overblown. Having a technician drive up in a black and white volkswagon beetle is not that impressive. Having them fix my computer is.

I also can understand the desire for IBM and Red Hat Linux to push open source for people. For the non-technically minded linux is incredibly complex and not that well documented. IBM clearly makes it fortune from providing consulting services and customizing linux services which can cost a fortune. The initial up front costs can be cheaper, but the customization and technical support requires people who have excellent computer skills.

Despite this if you want to know a bit of history on Wikipedia, or other collaborative projects this book will give the basics as well as many interesting facts. For example, Wikipedia has exactly five full time employees. The site is almost entirely run by volunteers.

The book is great if you want to learn about how business is using collaborative tools. It even includes the hype to go with it. There is a profusion of ideas; ideagoras, peering, wikis, prosuming, Wikipedia, open source, and so much more. In addition to this profusion of ideas, it does include how Wikis and collaborative tools may have an effect on your workplace. A lot of the material is focused on things which are currently happening, not theory.

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