Original 1st edition cover
|Subject||Social and economic impact of networked information technology, the cultural commons...|
|Publisher||Yale University Press|
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
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.
A PDF of the book is downloadable under a Creative Commons Noncommercial Sharealike license.Benkler has said that his editable online book is "an experiment of how books might be in the future", demonstrating how authors and readers might connect instantly or even collaborate.
Benkler describes the current epoch as a "moment of opportunity" due to the emergence of what he terms the Networked Information Economy (NIE), a "technological-economic feasibility space"that is the result of the means of producing media becoming more socially accessible. Benkler states that his methodology in the text is to look at social relations using economics, liberal political theory, and focuses on individual actions in nonmarket relations.
Benkler sees communication and information as the most important cultural and economic outputs of advanced economies. He traces the emergence and development of various communications (radio, newspapers, television) through the 19th and 20th centuries as functions of increasingly centralized control due to the high cost factor of production, and believes that media was thus produced on an industrial scale. Benkler's term for this is the Industrial information economy.
With the emergence of computers, networks, and increasingly affordable media production outlets, Benkler introduces the concept of the NIE, which sees media access as a form of power, and recognizes decentralized individual actions in said media as a result of the removal of physical and economic constraints to the creation of media. To Benkler, this is due to a new feasibility space: lowered costs of access via digital production and radical decentralization rather than centralized messaging ("coordinate coexistence", 30).
This results in emerging productions of information that use non-proprietary strategies (such as GNU licences and collaborative production formats).
The forms of cultural productions — music is an example Benkler uses frequently — are either rival or nonrival. Rival products decrease as they are used (e.g. pounds of flour), the use of nonrival products (e.g. listening to a song) does not decrease their availability for further use.
Static vs. dynamic efficiency: one premise of exclusive rights has always been that only financial incentives can facilitate participation in information production. Benkler argues that in an age where computers reduce the cost of production, that the equation of innovation-to-rights shifts as well.
The declining cost of communication means that in the networked society there are fewer barriers for individual cultural production that are "meaningful" to other users. Thus, in network economy, "human capacity becomes primary scarce resource".
To close this section, Benkler argues that the networked environment makes possible a new modality of organizing production: that of commons-based peer production. He discusses the parameters of the commons and gives the example of FLOSS Free/Libre/Open/Source/Software. He discusses shared acts of communication (utterances, reviews, distribution of information) and goods (like server space). Lastly, he draws a contrast to the regulation and rival resource of radio spectrum bandwidth and the sharability of space in a digital commons.
Benkler argues here that the networked society allows for the emergence of non-hierarchical groups that are committed to information production. Open software is one of the ways we can view the emergence of this new form of information production. "Commons-based" peer production eschews traditional rational choice models offered by economists. Benkler details some of the key components of this new economy based not on financial remuneration but on user-involvement, accreditation, and tools that promote collaboration between individuals.
In order to understand why people engage in production aside from financial incentives, Benkler argues that we can distinguish two types of motivation:
In this section, Benkler examines the relationship of individual access to participation in the dissemination and creation of information via communication systems, building on his earlier ideas of commons-based peer production.
He examines the historical emergence of the mass media, looking at the relationship between print and radio and ever-broadening, industrial broadcast models of production which became supported by advertising. The criticisms of mass media which Benkler brings up include:
Benkler moves from this overview and criticism to exploring what this text describes as the potential for networked communications to do:
For Benkler, another key component of the network society is that individuals are more active in producing their education and cultural production. Online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia allow for users to create rather than just consume knowledge and information.
Benkler begins chapter 10 stating two early views on the anticipated social impact the internet would have on the users and their community:
Firstly, the internet removed the user from society and allowed the individual to lead a life that was no longer molded by the interactions and experiences of a physical tangible civilisation with others. The second view was that using the internet would widen the field of a user's community by providing a novel system of communication and interaction.
He observes that users show enhanced relationships with their close contacts while increasing the numbers of less close contacts with relationships maintained through internet mediated interaction. He believes this latter change stems from the shift from the one-to-many model of media distribution to a many-to-many model where it is more user centered and controlled.
Benkler remarks that the early views were made on the premise that internet communication would replace real world forms communication rather than co-exist alongside it. He introduces the idea of the networked-individual who govern their own interactions and microcommunity roles in both real and virtual space and dynamically switch between when needed, eventually concluding that the early views were nostalgic and somewhat fatuous.
A definition is offered whereby cultural freedom occupies a position that relates to both political and individual autonomy, but is synonymous with neither.Benkler then goes on to add that culture is significant because that is the context within which we exist – these are our shared understandings, frameworks, meanings and references.
When Benkler's The Wealth of Networks was released in 2006, Lawrence Lessig announced the release of the book on his blog, stating: “This is—by far—the most important and powerful book written in the fields that matter most to me in the last ten years. If there is one book you read this year, it should be this.” denoer, and Reading Media Under The Tree. The book has been reviewed in The German Law Journal and The Independent Review. Book reviews of The Wealth of Networks have also been featured by several news publications, including The Financial Times, The Times, and the New Statesmen. In addition to book reviews, interviews with Yochai Benkler about The Wealth of Networks have been conducted and published by openDemocracy.net, openBusiness.cc, and Public Knowledge, and Benkler was invited to give a lecture based on The Wealth of Networks at the Center for American Progress on May 31, 2006.The Wealth of Networks has been reviewed by many other blogs in addition to the Lessig blog, including Rough Type, Dreams in Digital,
Less than a month after its release in 2006, The Wealth of Networks became the focus of an intense read and review seminar on the famous political blog Crooked Timber. After reading the book, six well-respected scholars (several of them founding members of crookedtimbre.org) posted their reactions to the book, and at the end of the seminar, Yochai Benkler was given the opportunity to respond to the comments.
In terms of Benkler's writing style, criticism on Crooked Timber targeted two main points: 1) that the book is written in a style that is too dense for the average reader, and 2) that it attempts to cover too many topics. As Dan Hunter points out in his review titled “A General Theory of Information Policy”, The Wealth of Networks is an attempt to articulate an underlying, grander “whole” that ties together the myriad issues involved in information policy and the internet. Hunter states: "Benkler provides something close to a General Theory of Information Policy for the networked age that begins to explain how we should think about topics as different as spectrum policy, copyright, user-generated content, network neutrality…well, the list pretty much encompasses all questions within internet law and policy."Hunter's main criticism of the book is that it is too academically dense for the average reader, and too reliant on assuming the reader is familiar with several internet organizations and websites, such as Wikipedia, PayPal, and Slashdot. As Hunter later states:
Another criticism of Benkler's theory is that so much focus is given to the potential of peer-production and innovation in the networked information economy, but little to no attention spent addressing issues related to the physical hardware required to keep the network that Benkler's theories rely on up and running. In a review of the book by Siva Vaidhyanathan, Benkler's “soft technological determinism” is brought under fire. Vaidhyanathan states:
Benkler addressed this criticism in his response to Vaidhyanathan's review, conceding that perhaps more attention to the physical elements of the networked information economy could have been given:
In a review of the book by Ben Peters, a similar sentiment to Vaidhyanathan's criticism is expressed: “It may also do very well to account for massive information infrastructure costs, the fiber optic cables, the wifi, and the laptops that the Benkler's optimism depends upon in the international development scene.”In The Independent Review: A Journal of Political Economy, Peter G. Klein stated:
Derek Belt, who reviewed the book on his blog titled “Dreaming in Digital”, targeted Benkler's optimism as his main point of criticism, suggesting that Benkler's optimism was too rooted in what was possible in the future, neglecting to take into consideration the position in which we as a society find ourselves in at the present time in relation to information policy. He states:
In contrast to these attacks on Benkler's optimism, a review by Debora Halbert suggested that:
Jack Balkin, a participant on in the Crooked Timber read and review took a similar stance in his interpretation of Benkler's optimism, stating:
The Wealth of Networks has been criticized for technological determinism. David M. Berry contends that Benkler's work builds on "a rather shaky binary distinction between proprietary industrial forms of economic and technological structure and non-proprietary peer-production models".Berry challenges Benkler's assumptions that network fosters non-proprietary models and that the latter are sounder and ethically preferable to the former model. According to Berry, Benkler fails to recognize that should network forms of organization happen to be wealth generating, "they will be co-opted into mainstream ‘industrial’ ways of production. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, the corporate world may soon provide peer-production for the rest of us." Johan Söderberg links Benkler's optimism towards networked modes of production to a larger current of thought generated by the hacker community. Drawing on Serge Proulx' work, Söderberg asserts that such a narrative, neoliberal in origin, recomposes the discussion on information society in a problematic way: "The fantasy of a frictionless market in information is transformed into a vision of an information-sharing society".
Although The Wealth of Networks has been the target of pointed criticism, the vast majority of published reviews are very emphatic about the fact that despite certain criticisms, The Wealth of Networks is an incredibly important book, and brings to the table many issues that are pertinent to the future of information policy and network development. Benkler is credited with bringing forth new perspectives related to social production, the role of the commons, how society is using and interacting with the internet, and how the internet is transforming the way people interact, create, and exchange goods and information. As Siva Vaidhyanathan stated in the opening of his review, “there is no better place to turn for an account of the processes of creativity and commerce relating to digital networks and the work that people do with them.”More specifically, The Wealth of Networks is also hailed as an incredibly important piece of writing for those advocating for greater protection of the cultural commons and open access models on the Internet. For the German Law Review, James Brink wrote:
“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.
A virtual community is a social network of individuals who connect through specific social media, potentially crossing geographical and political boundaries in order to pursue mutual interests or goals. Some of the most pervasive virtual communities are online communities operating under social networking services.
Network society is the expression coined in 1991 related to the social, political, economic and cultural changes caused by the spread of networked, digital information and communications technologies. The intellectual origins of the idea can be traced back to the work of early social theorists such as Georg Simmel who analyzed the effect of modernization and industrial capitalism on complex patterns of affiliation, organization, production and experience.
In the context of an evolving information society, the term information ecology marks a connection between ecological ideas with the dynamics and properties of the increasingly dense, complex and important digital informational environment and has been gaining acceptance in a growing number of disciplines. "Information ecology" often is used as metaphor, viewing the informational space as an ecosystem.
The Oxford Internet Institute (OII) is a multi-disciplinary department of social and computer science dedicated to the study of information, communication, and technology, and is part of the Social Sciences Division of the University of Oxford, England. It is housed over three sites on St Giles in Oxford, including a primary site at 1 St Giles, owned by Balliol College. The department undertakes research and teaching devoted to understanding life online, with the aim of shaping Internet research, policy, and practice.
Commons-based peer production (CBPP) is a term coined by Harvard Law School professor Yochai Benkler. 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. Often—but not always—commons-based projects are designed without a need for financial compensation for contributors. For example, sharing of STL 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.
Remix culture, sometimes read-write culture, is a society that allows and encourages derivative works by combining or editing existing materials to produce a new creative work or product. A remix culture would be, by default, permissive of efforts to improve upon, change, integrate, or otherwise remix the work of copyright holders. While combining elements has always been a common practice of artists of all domains throughout human history, the growth of exclusive copyright restrictions in the last several decades limits this practice more and more by the legal chilling effect. In reaction, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig who considers remixing a desirable concept for human creativity has worked since the early 2000s on a transfer of the remixing concept into the digital age. Lessig founded the Creative Commons in 2001 which released Licenses as tools to enable remix culture again, as remixing is legally prevented by the default exclusive copyright regime applied currently on intellectual property. The remix culture for cultural works is related to and inspired by the earlier Free and open-source software for software movement, which encourages the reuse and remixing of software works.
Sharing is the joint use of a resource or space. It is also the process of dividing and distributing. In its narrow sense, it refers to joint or alternating use of inherently finite goods, such as a common pasture or a shared residence. Still more loosely, "sharing" can actually mean giving something as an outright gift: for example, to "share" one's food really means to give some of it as a gift. Sharing is a basic component of human interaction, and is responsible for strengthening social ties and ensuring a person’s well-being.
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 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.
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.
Peer-to-peer file sharing is the distribution and sharing of digital media using peer-to-peer (P2P) networking technology. P2P file sharing allows users to access media files such as books, music, movies, and games using a P2P software program that searches for other connected computers on a P2P network to locate the desired content. The nodes (peers) of such networks are end-user computers and distribution servers.
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.
The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture (ISBN 0385520808) is a 2007 book written by entrepreneur and Internet critic Andrew Keen. Published by Currency, Keen's first book is a critique of the enthusiasm surrounding user generated content, peer production, and other Web 2.0-related phenomena.
The network economy is the emerging economic order within the information society. The name stems from a key attribute - products and services are created and value is added through social networks operating on large or global scales. This is in sharp contrast to industrial-era economies, in which ownership of physical or intellectual property stems from its development by a single enterprise. Business models for capturing ownership rights for value embedded in products and services created by social networks are being explored.
Participatory culture, an opposing concept to consumer culture, is a culture in which private individuals do not act as consumers only, but also as contributors or producers (prosumers). The term is most often applied to the production or creation of some type of published media.
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.
Googlization is a neologism that describes the expansion of Google's search technologies and aesthetics into more markets, web applications, and contexts, including traditional institutions such as the library. The rapid rise of search media, particularly Google, is part of new media history and draws attention to issues of access and to relationships between commercial interests and media.
Blogging is increasingly used in many countries around the globe, including those with oppressive and authoritarian regimes. In many Arab countries with oppressive and authoritarian regimes, where the government conventionally has controlled print and broadcast media, blogs and other forms of new media provide a new public sphere where citizens can obtain information they are interested in and exchange their personal opinion concerning several topics, including politics, economics, culture, love, life and religion.
Dr Axel Bruns is a Professor in the Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, and a Chief Investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation.