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Reading Summaries for Week 5

Wealth of Networks: Yochai Benkler


Between 1835 -1850 the cost of starting a mass circulation of a daily paper was $10,000. Currently that number has become $2.5 million. The latter figure you would need to implement a business model . This displays two distinctions between producers and consumers, mainly, largely professional consumers which is based on a main model that the capital used  is supplied by either the state in some countries, or the market in other countries.  The evolution began with marketing in radio, television, satellite, main frame then to personal computing – 150 years later. The first acclaimed super computer was NEC earth simulator in June of 2002 which was then beat by the IBM Gene Blue.  Since this achievement there have been 500 super computers, developed by large scale collaborations and funded by the wealthiest companies.  Benkler’s main point is radical decentralization of capitalization through computation, storage, and communications capacity and networked information economy.  Every individual in this world is connected, roughly 600 million to 1 billion, has the physical capital necessary to make and communicate information knowledge & culture.   This causes a new and different situation since the industrial revolution, most importantly the input into economic  activities of the most advance economies are widely distributed to the population

  • Computation /communication/storage
  • Inside creativity/experience/these cannot be bought

Main point: Moving people from the peripheries of the economy (changing the motivation) into the very core as alternative source of production.


Production without exclusion either from the inputs or outputs, individual or collaborative, it can be commercial or non commercial. Practical capacity is decentralized, commons locates authority to act where capacity resides. (ie Britannica, windows )

The Subset of commons is peer production/sharing, through large scale collaboration. Among human beings it has been mainly done traditional industrial production (state, market, price signals).


  1. For the past 12 yrs  – web server (Apache vs. Microsoft server)
  2. NASA map – take the same exact output – structure the work differently, and you can harness mass amounts of energy to collective tasks. (Groups of images put together, dramatically different if one was done mars click worker.)
  3. Efforts beginning to go into the non commercial/commercial entities. The creation of educational materials through social motivations.
    1. i.      Peer production allows self selection by tapping into diverse insights, capabilities and makes it possible for people to spend a certain amount of time to complete a task . Benkler thinks he is seeing more design levers, task reconstruction in this type of development.
    2. ii.      We also have to factor in self selection and humanization characteristics, similar to Game Theory. People understand that when they are engaging in a human action with others the same exact person with the same exact material pay off structures turns out to behave differently.
    3. iii.      Norm Creation: We map the presence of money on a set of norms, because cooperation has usually been non market. There are discreet places that the introduction of money makes this whole structure different especially in stabilization.
    4. iv.      As long as physical capital is large scale to work effectively and centralized , we are left with centralized firms or non government firms.
    5. v.      With the decentralization and non market we are finding a new form of production called social sharing and exchange.
    6. Important to remember for ECONOMICS: The New opportunities
      1. Finished information and cultural goods – platforms for self expression and self collaboration – as a business opportunity instead of a challenge.
      2. Ex: BBC – Citizen Journalism: Only images the news agency possess were of those in the subways captured by mobile phones.  The BBC nows has a page for (similar to CNN iReport)  people volunteering to capture to news.
      3. Social production is a real fact and not a fad and is sometimes more efficient than market production at times.
      4. POLITICS
        1. i.      People can now do more for and by themselves alone or in loose cooperation with others.  Now you can diversify the things you do with others because you can collaborate in smaller bits.
        2. ii.      Example: New machines for voting (Diebold) – an activist publishes the source code (which is really hard to do).  Diebold complains that the emails are being taken – copy right infringement – but individuals in other campuses have already shared the material and it’s all over the place. The ecology that has been resistant is a combination individual volunteers, legal free software developers, illegal companies for commercial purposes for those doing illegal things in other countries. The combination of legal and illegal creates a robust system that can’t be broken at this point.
        3. iii. The internet democratizes.  – first generation critique
          1. 1. No one will know what anyone says supposedly (aggregation, power law, polarization)
          2. 2. Second Generation Critique – anyone can speak but not everyone can hear you

      What is Power Law distribution?

      1. 1. Sites cluster that are content related  – intensely related communities and cultures start to develop. What determines the agenda is a small number of broadcasters with links and they being to mutual linking, and then those few sites become the broadcast sites. What determines the agenda is that those few sites transmit what those few users believe is what the agenda is..

  1. Cultural public sphere – where we create images and sound, this is a political component, small number of producers to a large audience of passive consumers.
    1. Gold digger – Kanye West  Mashup –this video displays how far borrowing goes to show the relationship between culture and politics.
    2. Common based and peer production are beginning to help
      1. Free and open source software
      2. Open academic publishing
      3. Open source biomedical innovation
      4. Rules can make some actions easier the institutional ecology they want to make the battle of information sharing more costly or subject to permission, the market and society have a persistence desire and pushback to be free and productive.


Excerpts from The Success of Open Source by Steven Weber

Property in a Software Economy

  1. Property and how it underpins the social organization of cooperation and production in a digital era.  Social organization has changed the definition of property (owning something and having legal responsibility and rights) and property in the new media age has changed the idea of social organization itself. The definition of property in an open source environment is basically the right to distribute, not the right to exclude. Open source and political economy  is a system of value creation and a set governance mechanisms.

“In this case it is a governance system that holds together a community of producers around this counter intuitive notion of property rights as distribution. It is also a political economy that taps into a broad range of human motivations and relies on a creative and evolving set of organizational structures to coordinate behavior. “

  1. So how do these people who are not physically connected to each other, manage to come together and build these complex projects for no monetary compensation?
  2. Open Source software and collaboration is a product of the internet culture and has been created by internet technology.

Open source depends on the following:

“It is about computers and software, because the success of open source rests ultimately on computer code, code that people often find more functional, reliable, and faster to evolve than most proprietary software built inside a conventional corporate organization.”

  1. Open source also does not eliminate the idea of profit, capitalism or property rights, companies and open source producers are joining together and creating new types of business models evolving our view of what property and intellectual rights are.
  2. The open source community is not a chaotic or calm place  it has political value. Conflicts of interests do arise within this environment.
    1. The context of the internet revolution  and the demise of the so called “dot com” boom put a damper on the what potentially was left in internet technology. Open source became popular when Linux was gaining attention. (Linux is an operation system for UNIX that is open source).

The open source story opens up a significant set of questions about the economics and sociology of network organization, not just network economics. And it demonstrates the viability of a massively distributed innovation system that stretches the boundaries of conventional notions about limits to the division of labor.

  1. Open source has brought forth several questions facing the sociology of network organizations and demonstrates what abilities open source has in what he calls the “division of labor.” This over laps with Lessig’s case – in a computational environment software codes plays a structuring role much like law does in conventional social space.  Human-computer interface designers are deeply aware of the fact that what they build embodies decisions about policy, rights, values, and basic philosophical views on human action in the world. The open source community has a set of principles. The criteria include:
    1. Entering/leaving, leadership roles, power relations, distributional issues, education and socialization paths.
    2. Weber makes a very good point in stating that during most social or economic change analysts tend to focus on what we are losing and not on what we are gaining from moving forward. We are challenge the old methods and conventional thinking believes that this is the destructive of creativity where as it is the rebirth of it in a new medium.
    3. The third area in is the nature of collaboration – “Production processes that evolve in this space are not a hard test of limits but rather a leading indicator of change and a place where experiments can be seen at a relatively early stage.”
    4. Open source is testing social organization based on what we would define as property. Issues arise when we try to think of ownership in this environment, “rights to access, rights to extract, rights to sell, etc. “What does it mean to own something??

“Open source radically inverts the idea of exclusion as a basis of thinking about property. Property in open source is configured fundamentally around the right to distribute, not the right to exclude. This places the open source process a step beyond standard norms of sharing in a conventional scientific research community.” Copy is encourage and allowed, your basically giving back to the community when you provide your input to the open source community.

  1. How big of a phenomenon is this? How broad is its scope?
  2. It is an important idea for the social scientists to think about if it was to become a large-scale cooperation (which I think already is)
  3. How can it help our economy, growth?

Commons-based Peer Production and Virtue – Yochai Benkler and Helen Nissenbaum

  • Common-based peer production is a socio-economic system of production that is emerging in the digitally networked environment.  There are 3 major parts for this to occur. The infrastructure of the internet, collaboration among large groups of individuals to provide information, knowledge or cultural goods without relying on the market, (corporations). Benkler and Nissenbaum believe that these type of production offers people the opportunity to engage in virtuous behavior.
  • A society that provides opportunities for virtuous behavior is on that is more conducive to virtuous individuals
  • The practice of effective virtuous behavior may lead to more people adopting virtues of their own.
  • “Thesis:  that socio-technical systems of commons-based peer production offer not only remarkable medium of production for various kinds of information goods but serve as a context for positive character information. “
  • Examples of Commons-Based Peer Production
    • Free software projects and open source software are a collective effort of people towards a common goal in a more or less informal or loosely structured way. No one owns anything.  The most famous products of this type are GNU/Linux Operating system, Apache Web server, Perk, and BIND. In the creation of these projects there is no formal leadership to limit power in discussion, the effort is a combination or good will, volunteerism and technology.
    • SETI@home is a large-scale volunteer production through Internet-connected computers in Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.  You download a small application in the form of a screensaver to your computer and while your away your computer would process the numbers from the SETI website. In essence created one of the largest super computers by distributing the tasks on different networks.
    • Nasa Clickworkers experiment: Individuals collaborated in 5 min increments to map and classify Mar’s craters. They would be completing tasks that a PhD would have to endure months of work.
    • Wikipedia – 30,000 users to collaborate and create an online encyclopedia. Wikipedia does not include elaborate software-controlled access or editing functionality.  Uses self-conscious use of open discourse, aimed at the consensus of all the users.

“Slashdot, a collaboration platform used by between 250,000 and 500,000 users. Users post links to technology stories they come across,

together with comments on them. Others then join in a conversation about the technology-related events, with comments on the underlying stories as well as comments on comments. – Slashdot is designed to constrain antisocial behavior based on it’s moderation points, limits the amount of influence a user can have on the collective. “


  1. Peer production is a model of social production, emerging along side contract and market based, managerial based and state based production.
  2. Two core characteristics in types of production  – Decentralization – the authority to act resides with individual agents faced with opportunities for action, rather than in the control of a central organizer.
  3. Second characteristic is they use social cues and motivations, rather than price or commands that are used in corporations (markets) to motivate and coordinate among individuals.
  4. This creates physical capital – a common goal – human effort and creativity.
  5. Peer production enterprises are becoming a mix of social and technical systems that encourage groups of users to collaborate without the backing or incentive of monetary compensation for the use of physical capital.3 Structural attributes – potential objects of peer production must be modular (must be divisible into components)
  6. Granularity of the modules – sizes of the project modules
  7. Low-cost integration – include both quality controls over the modules and functionality to bring the whole project together.
  8. One way to solve certain collective action problems is the introduction of GNU (General Public License), this prevents any defection from many free software projects. (ie GNU/Linux)


i.      Information Gain

ii.      The variability in fit of people to projects and existing info resources is great. The larger the number of people the more resources they have for projects.

iii.      People contribute to these projects because they gain a sense of purpose, they can display their creativity, or there is a common social goal, a sense of companionship  within a technical community.



Individuals choose to participate freely and  can contribute however much they want. They exercise free will and aren’t placed under any demand constraints.


Our day to day lives are programmed, from TV Channels, to our typical workdays,  peer production enables individuals to be more creative and productive in their tasks.


To seek the good in others, to benefit and help others, this is a common goal in commons based peer production – individuals are not providing in order to out do one another.


The open-hearted contribution is to a commons, a community, a pubic, a mission, or a fellowship.

“Virtue leads people to participate in commons-based peer projects, and that participation may give rise to virtue”

  1. Peer production benefits others because the individuals are contributing to a common good, and this enables autonomy and promotes public good.
  2. Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS): survey and study – found that the greatest percentage agreed that it enabled more freedom in software development, new forms of cooperation, opportunities to create more varieties of software and innovative breakthroughs.  “Share my knowledge and skill”


“Technical systems and devices are as much a part of political and moral life as practices, laws, regulations, institutions and norms. “

“Peer production can be said to provide a social context in which to act out, and a set of social practices through which to inculcate and develop, some quite basic human, social and political virtues.”

THE CATHEDRAL and the BAZAAR – Eric Steven Raymond

  • Linux – world class operating system created by several thousand developers all around the world by an internet connection. Raymond has been involved in this project in 1993 but had been part of the open source community for 10 years already.
  • Raymond has collaborated in the following projects – creation of the GNU, nethack, Emacs’s VC, etc.)
  • The most important software needed to build like “cathedrals”, carefully engineered and created by small groups of individuals in isolation.
  • The Linux community “seemed to resemble a great babbling bazaar of different agendas and approaches.”
  • This system of chaos, similar to bazaar, shockingly worked with the help of “Cathedral workers” as Raymond calls them.  Cathedral style is what is mostly used in the commercial world where as the Bazaar style is how the Linux system was developed. In this book he uses both approaches to see which is better in respect to “software debugging.”
  • He does an experiment by creating a new type of email service called Fetchmail. He wanted to have access to his email locally and SMTP doesn’t allow this, mostly POP3 accounts do.
  • Linus Torvalds, for example, didn’t actually try to write Linux from scratch. Instead, he started by reusing code and ideas from Minix, a tiny Unix-like operating system for PC clones. Eventually all the Minix code went away or was completely rewritten—but while it was there, it provided scaffolding for the infant that would eventually become Linux.
  • He used a POP client with the same base to start his creation with
  • After trying to edit fetchpop he saw a more robust system to base from Carl Harris
  • When you lose interest in a program, your last duty to it is to hand it off to a competent successor.
  • Treating your users as co-developers is your least-hassle route to rapid code improvement and effective debugging. Unix tradition, one that Linux pushes to a happy extreme, is that a lot of users are hackers too. Because source code is available, they can be effective hackers. This can be tremendously useful for shortening debugging time
  • Early and frequent releases are a critical part of the Linux development model. Most developers (including me) used to believe this was bad policy for larger than trivial projects, because early versions are almost by definition buggy versions and you don’t want to wear out the patience of your users. Release early. Release often. And listen to your customers.
  • Given a large enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be characterized quickly and the fix obvious to someone.
  • Linus demurred that the person who understands and fixes the problem is not necessarily or even usually the person who first characterizes it. “Somebody finds the problem,” he says, “and somebody else understands it – Linus’ Law
  • source-code awareness by both parties greatly enhances both good communication and the synergy between what a beta-tester reports and what the core developer(s) know. In turn, this means that the core developers’ time tends to be well conserved, even with many collaborators.
  • Smart data structures and dumb code works a lot better than the other way around.
  • If you treat your beta-testers as if they’re your most valuable resource, they will respond by becoming your most valuable resource.
  • The next best thing to having good ideas is recognizing good ideas from your users. Sometimes the latter is better.
  • Often, the most striking and innovative solutions come from realizing that your concept of the problem was wrong.
  • “Perfection (in design) is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but rather when there is nothing more to take away.”
  • There is a more general lesson in this story about how SMTP delivery came to fetchmail. It is not only debugging that is parallelizable; development and (to a perhaps surprising extent) exploration of design space is, too. When your development mode is rapidly iterative, development and enhancement may become special cases of debugging—fixing `bugs of omission’ in the original capabilities or concept of the software.
  • Any tool should be useful in the expected way, but a truly great tool lends itself to uses you never expected.
  • When writing gateway software of any kind, take pains to disturb the data stream as little as possible—and never throw away information unless the recipient forces you to!
  • A security system is only as secure as its secret. Beware of pseudo-secrets.
  • Provided the development coordinator has a communications medium at least as good as the Internet, and knows how to lead without coercion, many heads are inevitably better than one.

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  1. ElzbthMllr 17:47, Feb 21st, 10

    Benkler’s discussion about the relationship between culture and politics was very specific about how both social and economic forces may influence democratic societies. It seemed to incorporate both the ideas of sharing, conversation, collaboration and collective action that we talked about from Shirky, as well as Lessig’s talk about culture and society. The main point that I took away from this talk was that as entry level costs plummet, there is the chance for something entirely new and the chance for groups and people to build the output for society can grow exponentially. However, I think I’m being influenced by something we discussed in class last week about whether or not we are actually there yet. Benkler illustrated the possibility of how this can work and produced several examples that have been repeatedly brought up (Wikipedia, Flickr), and I think it’s important to remember that it’s not necessarily the technology that’s driving this change, it’s the culture that is created as a result of the technology itself.

    I think Weber also hits on several important points, such as the relationship between the market and this kind of culture. He writes “Open source code does not obliterate profit, capitalism, or the general concept of intellectual property rights. Companies and individuals are creating intellectual products and making money from open source software code, inventing new business models and notions about property along the way”. This is important because as Benkler says in his talk, the market is not going to go away, so to a certain extent we need to have a culture that is pushing against it. We have to understand how this culture relates to market if we’re expecting to understand how it can change social norms, economies, etc. And again, like Benkler, Weber comes back to the point that it’s not technology that’s necessarily changing platforms, organizations etc, but rather its ideas that are driving this change in culture. It’s interesting however, that all the readings from this week deal with the relationship between culture, politics, and democracy, yet we inevitably talk about how technology plays a role in each of these issues.

  2. Jimena 19:34, Feb 21st, 10

    Shifting the mindset from having the “right to exclude” to the “right to distribute” over what one has produced is the most difficult step in a society that has been programmed during centuries to consider property as physical commodity. The idea of ownership is so strong in the human mind, that it has taken it to the point of believing we can claim property over fellow human beings, as in slavery. Therefore, I think it’s fascinating that P2P and Open Source are a real, true, working alternative to capitalist forms of production, proven to work for a while now. In spite the political and power structures present in open source, in spite of its flaws and complications, it is a system that is here, it’s working, and won’t go away.

    That, as a valid force that challenges hegemony, is invaluable. I think we all read Raymond Williams’ ‘Marxism and Literature’ for Core Seminar last semester— I paraphrase from him: “The dominant class has a certain ideology by decision, but the subordinate one has the same one by imposition- because “the production of ideas … is in the hands of those who control the primary means of production” (109) Hegemony is a process that comprises experiences, relationships, activities, that does not exist passively but is continually resisted and challenged, and also defended and renewed. (112) Clearly, open source takes “the production of ideas” out of “the hands of those who control the primary means of production” and gives that power on the 1 billion people (according to Benkler) that are connected on the planet.

    As Weber says, “technology may change the costs of doing things but that is ultimately a marginal adjustment in political-economic behavior. What make a significant difference in human life are the ideas, theories, and institutions that are themselves a product of experimentation and imagination, of a different sort.” (3) The fact that a community of knowledge has been organizing itself around a common interest, accommodating different motivations, capacities and authorities is an incredible example of something much larger than the concrete results themselves (read software).

    I think that what Benkler points out as the actors participating in these networks is unique: “a mixture of legal and illegal, commercial and non-commercial creating a robust system to resist censorship and apply analysis”. Talk about hybrids!

    There is, of course, a dark side to this form of production. The fact that the NASA crowdsourced the work of trained PhDs on 30,000 people that labored for free is great—but those thousands of ‘volunteers’ did unpaid labor, and those PhDs didn’t get the job, of course. Where do we draw the line between peer to peer and unfair labor? Still, my favorite quote was Weber’s: “during the early stages of economic and social change, analysts often pay more attention to what is going away than what is struggling to be born…it is easier to see precisely the destructive side of creative destruction than it is to see the creative side”. Of course, I don’t know if we can still consider open source production to be in its “early stages”. What do you guys think?

  3. Jimena 20:36, Feb 21st, 10

    P.S.—to add to our (or at least my) ever present anxiety about so much to do in NYC and so little time, there is A LOT of stuff going on related to the topics we’ve been covering. Check out the speakers!!

    1. NYU’s Free Culture Club meeting:
    Monday night at 8pm in Kimmel 904.
    Screening of Colombia law professor Eben Moglen’s talk “Freedom in the Cloud” on software freedom, privacy, and security. Free pizza :)

    2. The Law.Gov Movement: A Panel Discussion
    Thursday, February 24th, 6:15-8pm
    New York Law School
    Room A700

    Internet pioneer Carl Malamud, President and Founder of Public.Resource.Org, will discuss the Law.Gov movement and it’s opportunities for citizens to help change the way we distribute America’s Operating System. He will be joined by distinguished Information Law scholars Helen Nissenbaum and Nicholas Bramble. This event is open to the public. RSVP to Naomi Allen at naomi.allen@nyls.edu.

    3. Limiting Knowledge in Democracy
    February 24th – February 26th
    New School is hosting this social research conference to ask “Where is America today with respect to the limits on our access to information, limits on what we can keep confidential and what the government and other institutions can keep secret? How can the public gain access to information and how do we decide what information is a citizen’s right to know? What information endangers individuals’ or the country’s wellbeing and safety? Are the ever-increasing number of technological innovations fundamentally transforming what we can know and what we cannot? What can remain confidential and what cannot?”

    Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh will be giving the keynote and Jonathan Zittrain will be talking about the impact of new technologies on increasing limits and transparency. The full agenda can be found here: http://www.socres.org/limitingknowledge/agenda.html Admission is free to students.

    4. Wireside Chat with Lawrence Lessig
    Thursday, February 25th, 6-7:30pm
    You can tune in live by going to http://openvideoalliance.org/event/lessig/ or go to the screening hosted by the Open Planning Project at 148 Lafayette St between Grand & Howard. Make sure to get there early to secure a seat. The talk will focus primarily on copyright and the fair use doctrine.

    5. NYC Creative Commons Salon
    Wednesday, March 3rd, 7-10pm
    The theme of this salon is open education Featured speakers include Eric Frank from Flat World Knowledge and Neeru Paharia from Peer 2 Peer University. Free beer :)

    If anyone is up to something, let me know!

  4. Alexandra 21:54, Feb 21st, 10

    @Jimena I definitely echo your thoughts from your first post about humans’ ideas about property as a right to exclude as opposed to distribute. That was one of the ideas that definitely struck me from this weeks’ readings. Although there are clearly open source programs, systems, websites, etc out there that are working perfectly well without established hierarchical structures, how difficult do you think it will be to take these ideas more mainstream? The average joe (dare I reference the 2008 campaign by saying “Joe the plumber”?!) probably has never even heard of Linux and would be baffled by the concept of open source. I wonder what the class thinks it would take for this idea to take a broader hold. Wikipedia is something that I think is very mainstream by now, so maybe it could really work.

    Also Jimena, great idea posting these events. I particularly like the idea of a “wireside chat”!

  5. Leslie 12:11, Feb 22nd, 10

    As Elizabeth mentioned, I thought a good point that was brought up in all of this week’s articles in some way, is that it’s not necessarily the technology, but the culture that surrounds that technology that is facilitating how Internet use is changing. As Benkler noted in “The Wealth of Networks,” that the technology of the internet enables people to do more, “for and by themselves,” while still connecting with others. The Internet gives the means to collaborate (the virtual space), but the way people are choosing to use it is facilitating a whole new way of collaboration and creation.

    As Benkler says, innovation is central to this. But, innovation and change can scare people, which is creating this “new vs old” battle, with the law as the playing field.

    Weber’s point that, “Property in open source is configured fundamentally around the right to distribute, not the right to exclude,” goes right along with how culture is changing around the technology of the internet and new media. This means of interaction is part of the way that the culture of the internet is changing. As Weber notes, this can be hard to accept and understand, as it is fundamentally different to the “old” culture and way of doing things.

    Weber also asks at the end of his article if it’s possible to, “build a working economic system,” around the open source process. This is definitely something that needs to be further considered as the culture surrounding the internet continues to change and develop. While there’s a lot of room for creativity and to build and expand on ideas, how does a monetary system fit into this? It will be difficult for creators to survive and to continue to create if they cannot live off of their works. The incentive to create might then be lost.

  6. nadine 13:19, Feb 22nd, 10

    Jimena posted a great video about open source design that is a great complementary to Weber’s article. If you haven’t had a chance to watch it, here is again the link: http://cultureandcommunication.org/tdm/s10/jimenalara/delivered-in-beta-a-documentary-on-open-design-innovation/
    It is important to keep in mind that open source designers are VERY attached to their ideas and feel strong ownership of what they do. Open source doesn’t mean happy collaboration and the end of ownership, as one might get the impression from Benkler. Though, I liked his second presentation where he draws a more realistic picture. As he explained with the Toyota example, we attend to a change of system. A different way of regarding copyright- though not revolutionary! The notion of copyright has been evolving in history. Piracy, for example, wasn’t linked in the 18th century to intellectual propriety or the rights of the authors, but to the rights of the publisher guilds (distribution). It is interesting that Weber brings up the Fair Use Doctrine (on page 4) when arguing for open source. Matter of interpretation?
    @Jimena: I appreciate that you bring up the problem of unpaid labor. “Volunteering” can be easily exploited. There was an interesting conference last fall at the New School: The Internet as Playground and Factory, that dealt with the changing notion of labor in the digital age. http://digitallabor.org/
    Have a look at the presentation about “Crowdsourced Labor: Digital Democracy or Centralized Sweatshop? “

  7. nadine 14:45, Feb 22nd, 10

    Here is the link to the conference videos: http://vimeo.com/user2103510/videos/sort:date

  8. Ryan 00:35, Feb 23rd, 10

    Wow, Ok there is a lot here to discuss. It seems that traditional notions of structure, Marxist and Capitalist systems of labor, and property have been fundamentally challenged. Weber’s concept to transcend one’s idea of “property” as one’s “right to exclude” another from something, but having the “right to distribute” is epistemological argument is founded within the realm of the internet and how it transcends normative understandings of the public sphere. It goes hand-in-hand with the last weeks topic of copyright and how it has served more of a purpose to exclude others from rather than an open source model where others are freely permitted to copy, alter, and improve upon something. Yes, successful examples are littered throughout Benkler’s and Weber’s articles, however, one cannot expect the economics and politics of the internet to replace realities traditional hierarchal structure of the division of labor. Weber remarks,

    “The software world is almost a limiting case for the study of knowledge economies, in the sense that it is made up of digitally encoded knowledge all the way through from top to bottom. Production processes that evolve in this space are not a hard test of limits but rather a leading indicator of change and a place where experiments can be seen at a relatively early stage.”

    It is a limiting case because how many people, apart from the software coders, understand this “digitally encoded knowledge” to be able to participate. Hence, the sphere of this production is limited to those with the knowledge and skill to participate, which I might say is a small minority of people. The possibilities are quite remarkable to think of the experimentation and the impact that open-source can have, but again, it is limited to those few who ‘know how’ to aggregate the open-source codes. Thus, not everyone has access to such things. Sure – Wikipedia, Flickr, etc. are great examples of such collaborative efforts, but open source is a coded distributive free property shared for the altruistic and utilitarian benefit of the internet and humanity. Property on the internet’s cyber-realm is different to a great degree than real life property. Weber’s point is acknowledged, but it cannot account for the reality of real-life economics. The economics and politics of the web fall into a separate category that circumvent hierarchical structures of ownership, laws, and minority of voices. People have always found ways around the normative system of labor, property, and money.

    I agree with Benkler a la Jimena’s reference that we see as a result of the internet/web this hybrid or synergy of ‘legal and illegal, commercial and non-commercial creating a robust system to resist censorship and apply analysis’. This democratic and revolutionary way of production and collaboration undergird these theories of open-source developed by Benkler, Weber, Raymond, and more.

    One question that kept plaguing me was there was no explanation to how >>

    “Open source code does not obliterate profit, capitalism, or the general concept of intellectual property rights. Companies and individuals are creating intellectual products and making money from open source software code, inventing new business models and notions about property along the way”

    How? Jimena and Nadine explain their concerns over this volunteer work or unpaid labor that gets exploited, “Where do we draw the line between peer to peer and unfair labor? ” I do agree with Benkler as he critiques the results to the poll of why people helped out with the SETI project. He is careful to take the results with a grain of salt into thinking that everyone is as virtuous as they seem. Maybe so. I appreciate his point that there could be a variety of reasons why one could put in the time and not get paid for it. Still, regardless of the motivation, the virtuous, moral, and ethical implications for such collaborative success seem to justify how substantial and important open-source is for today’s age and how it challenges and negotiates hegemonic structures of economics and politics.

    I personally think that commons-based production, open source, and other utilitarian models of sharing and collaboration are important in further steering and shifting our society into a more democratic culture of participation. Romanticism aside, the legal implications that this creates is not pretty.

  9. nadine 11:10, Feb 23rd, 10

    @Ryan, so glad that you picked up the discussion about how companies profit from crowdsourcing and open source. Have a look at this competition of Apple:

    Brief summary: challenge to create the most innovative, creative, and fun video games for Mac and iPhone. Winners receive a pass to a technology fair and iPod touch.

    What do you think about? Do you consider it just a fun competition at an Tech-Expo or do you see a hidden agenda behind it?

  10. juliette b 12:03, Feb 23rd, 10

    What I found really interesting in Weber’s work is his critic on our approach on property based on “the right to exclude”. Both Weber and Benkler pinpoints that we defenitely need to change our mindset. \

    In this respect, Benkler seems to be quiet confident that the change will indeed occur despite the will of corporations or individuals.

    But here is my concern : the ideas and the means to change the system are mostly in the hands of big corporations to which the system, as it is, profits. How can we expect them to collaborate bring the skills necessary to change?

    Can anyone think of concrete drivers that would motivate corporations to participate?

  11. Alexandra 14:37, Feb 23rd, 10

    So I’ll admit that I just recently finished the piece by Helen Nissembaum (hey, it was part of the recommended readings!) and I look forward to discussing it later in class. I felt like she and Benkler wound up spending so much time explaining themselves about how they were using the term “virtue” that they hardly spent any time discussing open source. The last few pages were the most interesting and relevant, in my opinion.

    I don’t even think the conclusion was very strong. As Benkler and Nissenbaum noted, of the few environments they studied, their results are influenced by self-reporting bias and self-selected respondents:

    “insofar as any other-regarding action is possible, there is good reason to hold that a sizable proportion of peer participation is pro-social, or morally praiseworthy in the ways discussed.” (412)

    There are so many qualifiers in that sentence! “good reason”, “sizable proportion” – these are not statements that make me feel like the authors are confident in their findings.

  12. HoniehLayla 15:04, Feb 23rd, 10


    Nissenbaum’s research is typically values based, hence her class “Values Embodied in Info Technology” so that is probably why you were disappointed by the technical aspect of it. She like’s to focus on how technology development NEEDS certain values to be incorporated in order for it to be successful and worth while. (ie: Freedom, Privacy, Virtue, etc.)

    In this paper, she puts forth an emphasis on virtue, and that peer to peer coordinating can in essence create a virtuous community, leading to a better and common goal.

    The environment’s they studied are now outdated – So I do agree with you that the conclusion may have needed more validating points to support her arguments.


  13. Harris 16:23, Feb 23rd, 10

    ‘What does it mean to own something?’ We look at our history and our own position in that history in terms of that question.
    You ask if/how commons-based peer production can help our economy or growth – my question is, maybe there is a redefinition of economy like there is a redefinition of ownership?
    Do we have to measure the benefits of peer production in terms of conventional economic principles? Or do we need a new scale?
    I’m looking at a time when we won’t need to earn part of our salary that we spend on buying information and entertainment.
    Will peer production spill over from the digital media to production of food and other necessities?

  14. Harris 16:40, Feb 23rd, 10

    Re: The issue of unpaid labor raised by Jimena and the responses by others

    Yes, the market will not go away, but in certain domains it will become irrelevant.

    ”Those thousands of ‘volunteers’ did unpaid labor, and those PhDs didn’t get the job”

    - The salary of those PhDs, if they had been hired by NASA, would have come from the taxpayers’ money. If some of the taxpayers can volunteer to do it themselves, the money can be spent somewhere else.

    Those volunteers did it for public good and personal fulfillment. If something can be achieved more efficiently without involving the market, then the market will be irrelevant.

    That is the major difference between the kind of labor they talked about in the TNS conference and NASA’s project.