Saturday, February 17, 2007

Wikinomics, by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams

Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams

According to the authors, the monolithic, inwardly focused corporation is dead. Replacing it is a company that reaches outside its boundaries for innovation and knowledge, treating the whole world like an R&D department. By examining the success of Wikipedia, Flickr, Linux, Second Life, and many others they present a compelling case. I think claiming the death of traditional corporate management is taking it a bit far, but with even IBM embracing open source methods clearly there is something to the premise.

Two recurring themes here: “There are more smart people outside your enterprise boundaries than there are inside.” and “We need an incentive system that rewards inventors and knowledge producers and encourages dissemination of their output.” These are both disrupting ideas to most companies, but I find a lot of truth in them. I’ve spent a good-sized hunk of my career building APIs, which has brought me into contact with a lot of really smart people trying to use what I’ve created. This experience, coupled with the ongoing patent, copyright, and DRM debates, gives quite a bit of resonance to these thoughts.

Another interesting discussion covered was inaccuracies in Wikipedia versus Encyclopedia Britannica. Many studies between the two have been made, but most agree that for accuracy they are very close. The Wikipedia supporters have shown that an obscenity inserted in a random page is removed on average in under two minutes. While impressive, Britannica folks will point out the obscenity wouldn’t have made it into their doc at all. Wikipedia occasionally gets blasted for publishing complete fabrications, but then Britannica can’t come close to covering breaking news in a timely fashion. It is an interesting debate; if I was a librarian or professor I think I’d be skeptical of using Wikipedia as an authoritative source—not because of inaccuracy claims but because the content shifts so much it would be difficult to tie a source to a specific version—but I can certainly see using it as a preferred research venue.

I quite enjoyed this book, and there are a lot of powerful thoughts presented here. The biggest flaw is that much of the text discusses the concepts as a fait accompli instead of an ongoing shift in thought. Regardless, the basic ideas of sharing, peering, and acting globally are well represented and thought provoking. One final quote I liked: “The culture of generosity is the very backbone of the internet.” Idealistic, but pleasing—much like this entire book.

First Sentence:
It was late in the afternoon, on a typically harsh Canadian winter day, as Rob McEwen, the CEO of Goldcorp Inc., stood at the head of the boardroom table confronting a room full of senior geologists.

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