Peer Production and Collaboration

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February 21

The free software movement is one example of a trend towards distributed volunteer networks of individuals collaborating on collective projects that were formerly the domain of the for-profit private sector. In this session, we explore how far such peer production can go in redefining the economic and social structures of modern society.


Assignment 2 due


Additional Resources

Joseph Reagle's book: Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia

The following audio streams from NPR may be interesting:

Class Discussion

February 21: Peer Production and Collaboration

Just Johnny 17:09, 15 February 2012 (UTC)

Great discussion with Yochai Benkler on economics of social production and politics. The Diebold example is a perfect indication of showing how this system of the “structured web” is effective in "offering visibility to more people" and easier for each "individual and small group to speak and be heard." Has anyone by chance seen the HBO documentary, Hacking Democracy? If not, check it out ([[1]]), which gives a more in depth and detailed insight into the investigation Bev Harris and her associate Kathleen Wynne (Black Box Voting, Inc.) did to expose security weaknesses in electronic voting systems. Also demonstrates the "battle with institutional ecology" and how Benkler indicated the law usually "favors the incumbents and institutions” which is what you see happening in Harris’ case. Imagine if Harris would have started this investigation now with the increasing amount of online power that stems from individuals in the social sphere? Or for example, what we’ve recently seen with the power of public influence on legislation like SOPA/PIPA or with the Komen debacle. Could Harris have gone further or have state/county officials act much quicker? Possibly. I do agree and believe that it is easier to make a change or create these movements where “networked” individuals are banding together to act for various reasons be it politics, social injustice, etc and as Benkler puts it now on a “global, not only local" scale. JennLopez 23:30, 20 February 2012 (UTC)

Very impressive points by Benkler, great summation. I'm very curious about his idea that even further expansion of the sorts of things that are peer sourced will continue inexorably. I agree with him, but I can't see how that will work in some cases where the goods are too integral to a specific industry or company's survival. It may be well and good that the online group can produce wiki entries or sift through pictures of Mars, but what happens when the task that needs to be completed is one that only a small handful of extremely highly trained experts can do? What about heart surgery techniques, or certain complex nuclear systems? The examples I make aren't perfect but I hope the point is clear. Those experts need a large framework both to be created and supported as they work (through the large cost of schooling, training, getting experience, sustaining work with expensive materials, etc.) Whether the companies pay that or whether the "future experts" pay it themselves with the promise of a high-paying job that will recoup their expenses when they become full experts, that is still a very very expensive system. Can it exist in a world where there is so much less profit attached, and where the other functions that company used to perform and fill its coffers with are now totally outsourced to the online crowd? I know this is in some ways a rehashing of the classic "Innovation is Good and Can Happen Free!! vs. You Have To Allow Patents and Profit or Innovation Dies!!" argument, but I'm curious about the ripple effect that can have. (AlexLE 01:58, 21 February 2012 (UTC))

I found Yochai Benkler’s speech to be very interesting, especially when he talked about individuals’ contribution to information in the BBC example that he gave. Another interesting aspect was that concerning democracy and the open sources of information. For what concerns the Reagle article on Wikipedia, I found it to be very true. I have noticed on various occasions that disputes are very common over Wikipedia articles and they can be characterized by a variety of reasons going from differing personal ideals to politics and many other issues. The point is that people should focus more on the reason for which Wikipedia was created and put aside hatred and personal issues/debates and cooperate to make Wikipedia a better source of learning and not a forum where an online battle should take place. I really enjoyed the statement regarding conflict as being “Addictive as cocaine” and totally agree with it since human beings are attracted to conflict to a certain extent. I also agree with Reagle when he states that “The relative “anarchy” of wiki culture, the malleability of Wikipedia content, the pseudonymity of contributors, and its consensus-based decision-making make Wikipedia particularly vulnerable to such strategic action.” Emanuele 15:51, 21 February 2012 (UTC)

I found one portion of Reagle's "Be Nice" article to be particularly interesting: his contrasting of the challenges (disputes, etc.) created by online interaction against the positives of collaboration (discussion boards and other collaborative tools). In particular, some of the elements of a positive prosocial community are (i) "behavior that is intentional, voluntary and of benefit to others"; (ii) relationships that rely upon "trust, empathy, and reciprocity"; and (iii) community character that is facilitated by "cultural norms" that enhance the well-being of a community. In my opinion, the first two items are fairly easy to define and can be measured when assessing online activity. The third, however, "cultural norms", seems too amorphous to define. What cultural norms exist in a new environment that attracts users from all over the globe from different cultures and age groups? I dont believe there is a starting point for cultural norms within Wikipeia to begin to assess how one may have veered off from those established norms. Cfleming27 19:00, 21 February 2012 (UTC)

I was quite fond of Benkler's analysis of peer collaboration. It certainly is present today, but I'm curious to know what he thinks the depth of it could be. It seems as though he leaves it open-ended to allow for peer collaboration on multiple levels, with no end in sight. I could see this in highly specialized fields as well, including open heart surgery. While those that can perform at such a level are few and far between, that does not preclude that they would be able to network and learn from each other. In this sense it seems as though there is no field that could not be touched by peer collaborations.

I do wish, however, that Benkler would have spoken more about Linux and the emerging network that this enables. He did show the graphic, but it was fleeting; Linux is much deeper than just digging into the pockets of Microsoft. Being an operating system, it enables everything that a computer, microchip, or any kind of electronic device is able to do. Through peer collaboration it is able to supersede the proprietary systems such as Windows or Macintosh. What is great about this is that every part of the system can benefit from the collaboration, to the point where it can become greater than any other system because it has enabled so many options that were either limited on other machines for financial/profit or control purposes or were not incorporated because they had not been considered as a viable option for the OS. Furthermore, being a system that is open to modification, it also enables integration of other devices and electronics into that system that are not enabled in other operating systems.

But the drawback to these systems are the individuals or groups that differ in opinion, much like Reagle spoke of. Since group collaboration is seems to be the greatest emerging economy, not only will it enable more through the long tail, but it will also have more detractors because of the long tail. But it seems as though these are weeded out eventually through either fracturing, or through stifling. However, with the mass advent of the Cloud, as well as multiple devices completely incorporated with one another, it seems as though it will only be a matter of time. I'm very curious, though, to know how this will play out with legal norms of the institutionalized ecology, since those laws and regulations exist for tangible objects in specific areas, rather than virtual objects in an international arena.Nthib 19:22, 21 February 2012 (UTC)

@Cfleming27 I believe that it may be possible to define Reagle's "cultural norms." Reagle acknowledges that users of Wikipedia have developed a set of norms, constellation of values, and common lingo. A basic norm or value that exists without boundaries and can be translated into any common lingo in any language is the concept of the “golden rule.” Reagle quotes Bowles & Gintis on page 3, “cultural traits governing actions” that “enhances the average level of well-being.” Can cultural norms be defined as something that enhances the average level of well-being similar to the golden rule? User:Hds5 15:29, 21 February 2012 (UTC)

When reading the article about Wikipedia I was amazed at the volume of various articles and guidelines that sought to maintain a neutral point of view, how to avoid disputes and engage in a collaborative effort. I initially wrote my assignment 1 on the NPOV and looking back didn't realize how many other guidelines that can be found by wandering down that path to become fully informed. In my article I outlined that one of the drawbacks to Wikipedia is in the quality of tools used to edit the pages. I noted while they are generally easy to use for editing bodies of main text, it can be difficult to edit something more complicated like a table which contains cells, where you have to rely on the ability to analyze raw code. I liken this to the ongoing disputes that exist regarding cooperation and NPOV. As good as it currently is, Wikipedia needs to become more accessible to additional would-be users. This includes not only improving the code editing tools but also the ways in which NPOV is maintained. I believe the best way to do this is to improve systems that make it easier for people to collaborate on disputes which impede the desired end result (peer production!) is the generally accepted neutral truth. Much like a wizard is used to create a letter or resume in MS Word, automating the way that people engage in disputes that make it easier for people to recognize points of contention and address them in a collaborative effort will improve the end product and please critics. Brendanlong 20:40, 21 February 2012 (UTC)