From Internet Law Program 2011
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We’ve recently seen a shift in social production in the commons, where people act alone and in collaboration with others to create new things, from web servers to Wikipedia. The question is no longer: is peer production real? Ten years ago, people would have laughed if you said that Wikipedia could be as good as Britannica (as Nature recently stated). The question is now: How do we build a new effective, collaborative system that harnesses peoples’ multiple motivations to contribute? In this session, we talked about factors that encourage on-line collaboration. Mayo Fuster Morell talked about how organizational infrastructure can affect the success of collaboration, while Aaron Shaw and Benjamin Mako Hill reviewed three studies in which personal incentives encourage collaboration (and sometimes don’t!).

Mayo Fuster Morell talked about how infrastructure governance shapes participation and complexity of collaboration in on-line organizations. Through statistical analysis and case studies, she graphed organizational infrastructures along two axes: open-closed systems versus autonomous-dependent systems. She found that open and autonomous organizations tend to promote better collaboration, while organizations that don’t differentiate between content providers and infrastructure editors tend not to do as well. She tied these effects in with a struggle between Corporate Logic and Commons logic, which is increasingly acquiring a political aspect, as in the Free Culture movement in Spain.

Aaron Shaw and Benjamin Mako Hill looked at personal incentives that promote people to collaborate. In experiments on communities like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, Scratch, and Wikipedia, they found that peer-based incentives (based on how well you predict others will do, for example) by and large improved peoples’ collaborations. For social signallers on Wikipedia, for example, peer-conferred “Barnstars” increased editors’ editing productivity shortly after they received them. But the interventions to promote creativity also had unexpected consequences based on individuals’ motivations and community norms. On the social programming site called Scratch, when editors posted examples of programs to be remixed, users indeed increased re-mixing -- but the programs generated were less complex.

So what is the bigger meaning of these studies on incentives and infrastructures that promote collaboration? Participants on the on-line question tool debated what would be the next Wikipedia. Yochai Benkler suggested that societal freedom is at stake -- we can reproduce the modes or power and control that characterized the 20th century, or we use the net to create new ways of cooperating. And once we see our better cooperative selfs reflected back to us not the net, there remains an open question: can we migrate these structures to the off-line world?

3-4 key questions

1. What’s the next WikiPedia? And what will the future of WikiPedia look like?

2. Why are signallers more productive than non-signallers? How can an organizational infrastructure provide motivation to participants/members when each individual is motivated in different ways by different factors?

3. How can the study of online cooperation influence and inform our understanding of human interaction off-line? How can we use what we observe online to provide an alternative to the self-interest model?