The Wealth of Networks

Paul Miller has a nice, succinct review in the Financial Times. Sample:

What Benkler sees is an emerging pattern in the way we use network technologies which he thinks is positive for democracy and innovation, but not without its downsides. He argues that the internet is making obvious an existing form of exchange – social sharing – and taking it from the periphery to the mainstream of the economy. Conventional economics can’t explain why volunteer-generated projects such as Wikipedia or open-source software, which are given away for free, have been so successful. He proposes his own theory of “social production” – “commons-based peer production” – to fill the gap.

It’s a counterpoint to the received wisdom that creating and exploiting intellectual property (patents and copyright) is the only way to do business in the 21st century. He points out that in 2003 IBM made twice as much money from providing open-source services as it did from intellectual property – despite the fact that between 1999 and 2004 it created more patents than any other US company. Benkler proposes that this is a pattern we will see repeated. The thesis is unsettling for those businesses, particularly entertainment ones, that have relied on controlling distribution of copyrighted material. He says not that they will disappear overnight but that social production is more than a fad. It is no surprise to Benkler that: “We find ourselves in the midst of a battle over the institutional ecology of the digital environment.”