Jimmy Wales and Yochi Benkler on Cooperation

Wikipedia has become the icon of a different way of looking at how we can be productive and collaborative. Peer production has emerged as a defining feature of the networked information economy and the networked public sphere. Can we seriously begin to imagine that these practices should change our understanding of the possibilities of cooperative human relations? What are the forces pushing against cooperation, and how can they be addressed? What can we learn from life online about how better to design systems, both technical and institutional that will foster cooperation?

Jimmy Wales: Founder of Wikipedia, Berkman Fellow

“The whole concept of wikipedia is a crazy idea. It is counter-intuitive.” — Jimmy Wales

His opening salvo centers on the fact that people on the Internet are inherently bad … top down wins or you end up with a bit of a blood bath. In the era of usenet, people couldn’t fathom the idea that anyone at anytime could edit knowledge just didn’t make any sense. His scenario is this … imagine you are given the task of designing a restaurant that served steak and everyone is given the knives … the problem here is that people walk into these situations saying something like, “people with knives might stab people.” When this is the central argument we end up just putting people in cages — essentially locking them out of participating. Wikipedia changes this.

NPOV – Neutral Point of View. This is the central tenant of wikipedia participation. Even with all this, the nature of technology is that your work is always going to be changed … with this in mind as you mature in your participation in wikipedia you realize that the more biased your view is, the more other people work to change it. He calls this “writing for the enemy.” Interesting in that we’ve taken the stance with our Community Hubs is the community self corrects.

Yochai Benkler: Jack N. and Lillian R. Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies, Harvard Law School Faculty Co-Director, Berkman Center for Internet & Society

“The threat is not the money, the threat is the authority over knowledge.” — Yochai Benkler

The value in the wikipedia movement is that people learn how to have real and civil discussions related to the production of knowledge. We are really start to see the move towards something that was quirky in its origins (mass editing of knowledge) towards something that is now becoming an understand model … no matter if it is about posting text, pictures, making movies, or now with the Obama campaign and its ability to let the individual to create their own donation site to help raise money.

When the overlay of human cooperation comes into focus we see a much different model for taking advantage of the network. Look at the vast differences with the old Ma Bell model and who controlled that — remember the images of the switchboard operator actually controlling where and how we connected? Compare that to the world of network centric voice services like Skype … at the end of the day, these new ideas are fundamentally changing all sorts of things — the design of systems, the notion that change and unpredictability should be comfortable, and view of the relationship an individual has with the world.

3 thoughts on “Jimmy Wales and Yochi Benkler on Cooperation

  1. I love the quote:

    “The threat is not the money, the threat is the authority over knowledge.” — Yochai Benkler

    What I’m finding in my work is that this idea of allowing others to provide input, create content or discuss your organization without your consent or knowledge seems to be a very threatening thing for some people. It also really seems that the relinquishing of that “power” is a difficult thing to do.

  2. Agreed. There is lies one of the biggest issues we face in an administrative position — can we/should we trust our people or the community to make appropriate contributions to the story of the organization? I have worked to answer that question we a “yes,” but I know it can be looked at with a wary eye from some. My personal stance is that our community is smart and engaged … the thing I fear is the outlier — the ones who have no interest in being part of the community, instead only hoping to sack it.

    Launching open environments is a wonderful thing and I have to say we are all just beginning to understand what it means to manage them. We’re also just starting to see the power in them — and as we see the power we need to share the story of that power with others around us. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Pingback: Open Thinking : Cole Camplese: Learning & Innovation

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