Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Open Business Interview Benkler

Open Business has a nice interview with Yochai Benkler.

"You also mention “non-monetary” incentives. What are those?

There is something of a joke in the very posing of the question on a business site. Nonmonetary motivations are what make you stop on the street for a moment to answer a stranger who asks you for the time or directions; what makes you travel five hundred miles to be with you family for the holidays, and what makes you tell a friend a joke, or listen to it. They are also the motivations that lead some of the world’s leading minds to work for what, by comparison to other lines of business in which they could succeed, is a pittance–to satisfy their curiosity, for fame, or because of the sheer fun.

These are motivations on which all of us act many times a day, but which have been shunted to the periphery of the economy throughout much of the industrial period. What we see now, as the two core inputs into information production have become widely distributed in the population (that is, computation and communications capacity, on the one hand, and human creativity, experience, and wisdom, on the other hand), these same motivations have moved from the domain of the social and personal to occupy a larger role smack in the middle of the most advanced economies in the world today.

3. There are some heavily distributed collaborative projects, relying on thousands of volunteers, like the Wikipedia; can they be sustained?

There is no reason to think that these projects cannot be sustained. There are essentially two main concerns people suggest for skepticism: (1) where will the motivations come from over the long haul, and why won’t human selfishness ultimately rend these projects apart? (2) Why won’t these degrade into a cacophonous medley as more people join in who are less competent or engaged than original contributors? The answer to the first objection is that critical to the success of these projects is their ability to be broken down into discrete modules, capable of independent completion in relatively fine-grained increments. Because of this, people can contribute a little or a lot, and given large-scale connectivity as we have today, and diverse human motivations, it turns out that some combination of true believers, people who play around, occasional contributors, and people paid to participate at the interface of peer production and markets sustains these projects... The answer to the second question is that quality control and continuous self-correction is itself susceptible to peer production, and we see most of the successful projects implementing various systems of collaborative peer review of the contributions, as well as collaborative production of the ultimate information good itself."

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