Commons-based peer production

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Commons-based peer production (CBPP) is a term coined by Harvard Law School professor Yochai Benkler. [1] It describes a model of socio-economic production in which large numbers of people work cooperatively; usually over the Internet. Commons-based projects generally have less rigid hierarchical structures than those under more traditional business models.


One of the major characteristics of the commons-based peer production is its non-profit scope. [2] :43 Often—but not always—commons-based projects are designed without a need for financial compensation for contributors. For example, sharing of STL (file format) design files for objects freely on the internet enables anyone with a 3-D printer to digitally replicate the object saving the prosumer significant money. [3]


The history of commons-based peer production communities (by the P2Pvalue project) The history of commons-based peer production communities (CBPP).svg
The history of commons-based peer production communities (by the P2Pvalue project)

Benkler contrasts commons-based peer production with firm production, in which tasks are delegated based on a central decision-making process, and market-based production, in which allocating different prices to different tasks serves as an incentive to anyone interested in performing a task.

Benkler first introduced the term in his 2002 paper "Coase's Penguin, or Linux and the Nature of the Firm", [4] whose title refers to the Linux mascot and to Ronald Coase, who originated the transaction costs theory of the firm that provides the methodological template for the paper's analysis of peer production. The paper cites Eben Moglen as the originator of the concept. [4]

In his book The Wealth of Networks (2006), Benkler significantly expands on his definition of commons-based peer production. According to Benkler, what distinguishes commons-based production is that it doesn't rely upon or propagate proprietary knowledge: "The inputs and outputs of the process are shared, freely or conditionally, in an institutional form that leaves them equally available for all to use as they choose at their individual discretion." To ensure that the knowledge generated is available for free use, commons-based projects are often shared under an open license.

Not all commons-based production necessarily qualifies as commons-based peer production. According to Benkler, peer production is defined not only by the openness of its outputs, but also by a decentralized, participant-driven working method of working. [5]

Peer production enterprises have two primary advantages over traditional hierarchical approaches to production:

  1. Information gain: Peer production allows individuals to self-assign tasks that suit their own skills, expertise, and interests. Contributors can generate dynamic content that reflects the individual skills and the "variability of human creativity."
  2. Great variability of human and information resources leads to substantial increasing returns to scale to the number of people, and resources and projects that may be accomplished without need for a contract or other factor permitting the proper use of the resource for a project. [6]

In Wikinomics , Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams suggest an incentive mechanism behind common-based peer production. "People participate in peer production communities," they write, "for a wide range of intrinsic and self-interested reasons....basically, people who participate in peer production communities love it. They feel passionate about their particular area of expertise and revel in creating something new or better." [7]

Aaron Krowne offers another definition:

commons-based peer production refers to any coordinated, (chiefly) internet-based effort whereby volunteers contribute project components, and there exists some process to combine them to produce a unified intellectual work. CBPP covers many different types of intellectual output, from software to libraries of quantitative data to human-readable documents (manuals, books, encyclopedias, reviews, blogs, periodicals, and more). [8]


First, the potential goals of peer production must be modular. [9] In other words, objectives must be divisible into components, or modules, each of which can be independently produced. [9] That allows participants to work asynchronously, without having to wait for each other's contributions or coordinate with each other in person. [10]

Second, the granularity of the modules is essential. Granularity refers to the degree to which objects are broken down into smaller pieces (module size). [10] Different levels of granularity will allow people with different levels of motivation to work together by contributing small or large grained modules, consistent with their level of interest in the project and their motivation. [10]

Third, a successful peer-production enterprise must have low-cost integration—the mechanism by which the modules are integrated into a whole end product. Thus, integration must include both quality controls over the modules and a mechanism for integrating the contributions into the finished product at relatively low cost. [10]


Additional examples of commons-based peer production communities (by the P2Pvalue project) Crazy things you can do with commons-based peer production communities (CBPP).svg
Additional examples of commons-based peer production communities (by the P2Pvalue project)
One day living with commons-based peer production communities (by the P2Pvalue project) One day living with commons-based peer production communities (CBPP).svg
One day living with commons-based peer production communities (by the P2Pvalue project)

Examples of projects using commons-based peer production include:


Several outgrowths have been:

Interrelated concepts to Commons-based peer production are the processes of peer governance and peer property. To begin with, peer governance is a new mode of governance and bottom-up mode of participative decision-making that is being experimented in peer projects, such as Wikipedia and FLOSS; thus peer governance is the way that peer production, the process in which common value is produced, is managed. [11] Peer Property indicates the innovative nature of legal forms such as the General Public License, the Creative Commons, etc. Whereas traditional forms of property are exclusionary ("if it is mine, it is not yours"), peer property forms are inclusionary. It is from all of us, i.e. also for you, provided you respect the basic rules laid out in the license, such as the openness of the source code for example. [12]

The ease of entering and leaving an organization is a feature of adhocracies.

The principle of commons-based peer production is similar to collective invention, a model of open innovation in economics coined by Robert Allen. [13]

Also related: Open-source economics and Commercial use of copyleft works.


Some believe that the commons-based peer production (CBPP) vision, while powerful and groundbreaking, needs to be strengthened at its root because of some allegedly wrong assumptions concerning free and open-source software (FOSS). [14]

The CBPP literature regularly and explicitly quotes FOSS products as examples of artifacts "emerging" by virtue of mere cooperation, with no need for supervising leadership (without "market signals or managerial commands", in Benkler's words).

It can be argued, however, that in the development of any less than trivial piece of software, irrespective of whether it be FOSS or proprietary, a subset of the (many) participants always play—explicitly and deliberately—the role of leading system and subsystem designers, determining architecture and functionality, while most of the people work “underneath” them in a logical, functional sense. [15]

Alternative to capitalism

Commons-based peer production (CBPP) represents an alternative form of production from traditional capitalism. Nevertheless, to this day CBPP is still a prototype of a new way of producing, it cannot be called a complete form of production by itself. CBPP is embedded in the capitalist system and even though the processes and forms of production differ it is still mutually dependent to capital. If CBPP triumphs in its implementation the market and state will not disappear, but their relationship with the means of production will be modified. [16] A socio-economic shift pursued by CBPP will not be straightforward or lead to a utopia, it could help solve some current issues. As any economic transition, new problems will emerge and the transition will be complicated. But, moving towards a CBPP production model will be ideal, a step forward for society. [16] CBPP is still a prototype of what a new way of production and society would look like, and can't separate itself completely from capitalism: commoners should find innovative ways to become more autonomous from capitalism. [16] In a society led by commons the market would continue to exist as in capitalism, but would shift from being mainly extractive to being predominantly generative. [16]

See also

Related Research Articles

“The Nature of the Firm” (1937), is an article by Ronald Coase. It offered an economic explanation of why individuals choose to form partnerships, companies and other business entities rather than trading bilaterally through contracts on a market. The author was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1991 in part due to this paper. Despite the honor, the paper was written when Coase was an undergraduate and he described it later in life as "little more than an undergraduate essay."

Free and open-source software Software whose source code is available and which is permissively licensed

Free and open-source software (FOSS) is software that can be classified as both free software and open-source software. That is, anyone is freely licensed to use, copy, study, and change the software in any way, and the source code is openly shared so that people are encouraged to voluntarily improve the design of the software. This is in contrast to proprietary software, where the software is under restrictive copyright licensing and the source code is usually hidden from the users.

Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens is a Belgian Peer-to-Peer theorist and an active writer, researcher and conference speaker on the subject of technology, culture and business innovation. Michel Bauwens is a theorist in the emerging field of P2P theory and director and founder of the P2P Foundation, a global organization of researchers working in collaboration in the exploration of peer production, governance, and property. He has authored a number of essays, including his thesis The Political Economy of Peer Production.

Social peer-to-peer processes are interactions with a peer-to-peer dynamic. These peers can be humans or computers. Peer-to-peer (P2P) is a term that originated from the popular concept of the P2P distributed computer application architecture which partitions tasks or workloads between peers. This application structure was popularized by file sharing systems like Napster, the first of its kind in the late 1990s.

Yochai Benkler

Yochai Benkler is an Israeli-American author and the Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard Law School. He is also a faculty co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

The commons is the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately. Commons can also be understood as natural resources that groups of people manage for individual and collective benefit. Characteristically, this involves a variety of informal norms and values employed for a governance mechanism. Commons can be also defined as a social practice of governing a resource not by state or market but by a community of users that self-governs the resource through institutions that it creates.

Peer production is a way of producing goods and services that relies on self-organizing communities of individuals. In such communities, the labor of many people is coordinated towards a shared outcome.

An online marketplace is a type of e-commerce website where product or service information is provided by multiple third parties. Online marketplaces are the primary type of multichannel ecommerce and can be a way to streamline the production process.

The Carr–Benkler wager between Yochai Benkler and Nicholas Carr concerned the question whether the most influential sites on the Internet will be peer-produced or price-incentivized systems.

Industrial information economy is a term coined by Harvard University Professor Yochai Benkler. Benkler discusses this term in-depth in his 2006 book The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom.

<i>The Wealth of Networks</i>

The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom is a book by Harvard Law School professor Yochai Benkler published by Yale University Press on April 3, 2006.

Free content Creative work with few or no restrictions on how it may be used

A free content, libre content, or free information, is any kind of functional work, work of art, or other creative content that meets the definition of a free cultural work.

The open-source model is a decentralized software development model that encourages open collaboration. A main principle of open-source software development is peer production, with products such as source code, blueprints, and documentation freely available to the public. The open-source movement in software began as a response to the limitations of proprietary code. The model is used for projects such as in open-source appropriate technology, and open-source drug discovery.

Open-source appropriate technology (OSAT) is appropriate technology developed through the principles of the open-design movement. Appropriate technology is technology designed with special consideration to the environmental, ethical, cultural, social, political, and economic aspects of the community it is intended for. Open design is one that is public and licensed in such a way as to allow it to be used, modified and distributed freely.

Open-source economics

Open-source economics is an economic platform based on open collaboration for the production of software, services, or other products.

The digital commons are a form of commons involving the distribution and communal ownership of informational resources and technology. Resources are typically designed to be used by the community by which they are created.

Distributed manufacturing also known as distributed production, cloud producing and local manufacturing is a form of decentralized manufacturing practiced by enterprises using a network of geographically dispersed manufacturing facilities that are coordinated using information technology. It can also refer to local manufacture via the historic cottage industry model, or manufacturing that takes place in the homes of consumers.

A platform cooperative, or platform co-op, is a cooperatively owned, democratically governed business that establishes a computing platform, and uses a website, mobile app or a protocol to facilitate the sale of goods and services. Platform cooperatives are an alternative to venture capital-funded platforms insofar as they are owned and governed by those who depend on them most—workers, users, and other relevant stakeholders.

Open manufacturing, also known as open production, maker manufacturing, and with the slogan "Design Global, Manufacture Local" is a new model of socioeconomic production in which physical objects are produced in an open, collaborative and distributed manner and based on open design and open source principles.

Open source is a source code that is made freely available for possible modification and redistribution. Products include permission to use the source code, design documents, or content of the product. It most commonly refers to the open-source model, in which open-source software or other products are released under an open-source license as part of the open-source-software movement. Use of the term originated with software, but has expanded beyond the software sector to cover other open content and forms of open collaboration.


  1. Steven Johnson (September 21, 2012). "The Internet? We Built That". The New York Times . Retrieved 2012-09-24. The Harvard legal scholar Yochai Benkler has called this phenomenon 'commons-based peer production'.
  2. Dariusz Jemielniak; Aleksandra Przegalinska (18 February 2020). Collaborative Society. MIT Press. ISBN   978-0-262-35645-9.
  3. Petersen, Emily E.; Pearce, Joshua (March 2017). "Emergence of Home Manufacturing in the Developed World: Return on Investment for Open-Source 3-D Printers". Technologies. 5 (1): 7. doi: 10.3390/technologies5010007 .
  4. 1 2 Coase's Penguin or Linux and The nature of the firm 112 YALE L.J. 369 (2002), PDF Archived 2013-05-17 at the Wayback Machine .
  5. Benkler, Yochai (2006). The Wealth of Networks . Yale University Press. pp.  73–74. ISBN   978-0-300-11056-2.
  6. Benkler, Yochai; Nissenbaum, Helen (2006). "Commons-based Peer Production and Virtue". The Journal of Political Philosophy. 4 (14): 394-419. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
  7. Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (2006), by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, Portfolio Books, p 70
  8. Krowne, Aaron (March 1, 2005). "The FUD based encyclopedia: Dismantling the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt aimed at Wikipedia and other free knowledge sources Archived 2006-02-09 at the Wayback Machine . Free Software Magazine .
  9. 1 2 Kostakis, Vasilis (2019). "How to reap the benefits of the "digital revolution"? Modularity and the commons". Halduskultuur. 20 (1): 4–19. doi:10.32994/hk.v20i1.228 . Retrieved 22 November 2019.
  10. 1 2 3 4 Benkler, Yochai; Nissenbaum, Helen (2006). "Commons-based Peer Production and Virtue" (PDF). The Journal of Political Philosophy. 4. 14 (4): 394–419. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9760.2006.00235.x . Retrieved 22 October 2011.
  11. Vasilis Kostakis (2010): Peer governance and Wikipedia . In: First Monday 3-1(15)
  12. Michel Bauwens (2005): The Political Economy of Peer Production . In: Ctheory
  13. Robert C. Allen (1983): Collective invention . In: Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 4(1), p. 1-24
  14. Magrassi, P. (2010). Free and Open-Source Software is not an Emerging Property but Rather the Result of Studied Design Archived 2010-11-12 at the Wayback Machine Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Intellectual Capital, Knowledge Management & Organisational Learning, Hong Kong Polytechnic, Nov. 2010
  15. Magrassi, P. (2010). Free and Open-Source Software is not an Emerging Property but Rather the Result of Studied Design pag. 8. Cornell University Library, > cs > arXiv:1012.5625
  16. 1 2 3 4 Bauwens, M.; Kostakis, V.; Pazaitis, A. (2019). Peer to Peer: The Commons Manifesto. London: University of Westminster Press. pp. 1–10.