Who owns ‘the wisdom of crowds’

This is related to our earlier posts about Antigoras and netarchical capitalism, which refers to a new breed of companies that develop through enabling participatory platforms, while the Antigoras article of Jaron Lanier pointed to the dangers of new monopolies.

Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine, tackles this contradiction between community production and private appropriation head on, in what is definitely a landmark post, and asks: “who owns the wisdom of crowds”. His key question is: can the user-capitalization model, which works for Skype and many other new models, result in user ownership, and if not, what is the right relationship between the user communities, that produces the wealth, and the platform, which enables it.

Samuel Rose of SmartMobs, summarizes Jeff’s analysis as follows:

Jarvis asserts that there are “individual”, “collective” and “enabler” (like Yahoo, Google, Wikipedia, etc) levels of scale involved in peer production networks.

Basically, he says that on the” individual” level, we want to control the things that we create (and, that if we can’t, we’ll go elsewhere). On the “collective” level, we “create as we consume” collectively, and that the “crowd” itself owns the “wisdom of the crowd”. If someone tries to “own” this crowd-wisdom generated from consumption, they make it less valuable by trying to disconnect it from larger networks to control it.

The “enabler” level is an open question from Jarvis:

What do the enablers deserve for enabling? And what do we as individuals and as members of the collective deserve for creating the wisdom? What do we owe each other in this exchange of value?
Or the real question is: How do we not screw this up?

There are so many ways we can screw it up. Spam, hate, stupidity, and control can do that. But if everyone behaves the right way, then we create great wholes larger than the sums of their parts; every capitalized entity above proves that. But we’re still trying to figure out what the rules are, what “the right way� means.

The truth is that we’re doing nothing less than creating a new society and we’re still figuring out what the rules and economies of that society are.

And the conclusion of the analysis is the following:

The “enablers” that organize themselves around economic models that depend on central “enabler” ownership of “IP” created by it’s users are going to struggle to keep people and content within their fortress walls, and under their rules. They will eventually and inevitably be largely abandoned for systems where the “individual”, the “collective” and the “enablers” are one and the same. A system where the “users” become the company owners, employees, research and development, and innovators. This is the future of “peer production” networks.

7 Comments Who owns ‘the wisdom of crowds’

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  2. AvatarDavid Bollier

    Who owns the wisdom of the crowd? Whomever is able to capture it. The key to the sustainability of a user-based commons (such as a free software community) is a legal or institutional mechanism such as the GPL, which assures that the “surplus value” created by the commons stays WITHIN the commons (or at least is not over-exploited by private appropriators). If user-based communities are going to be able to acquire long-term equity in their own production, we will need to create innovative instruments to assure that private capital cannot own and control it. An exemplary battle in this regard may be massively multiplayer online games, in which users who create avatars, rooms, props, etc., do not legally own their own virtual creations; the corporation that created the game does.

    Social norms can go a long way toward “punishing” corporate owners who misbehave. Witness the user outrage when Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. started to censor posts and web links on its recently acquired MySpace site. But whether smart mobs can necessarily prevail or find suitable alternatives is an open question, to my mind, despite the long-term trendline in their favor.

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