Live Well, Do Good

Wiki Is The Way Of The Future

Brandon Sun, May 3, 2008 - David McConkey

Two recent books describe how the Internet is dramatically changing our economy and society.  Last year, I reviewed The Long Tail. Now, I will look at Wikinomics

The authors of Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything are Dan Tapscott and Anthony Williams. 

Tapscott, a Canadian, also wrote The Naked Corporation and Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation.

Wikinomics derives its name and inspiration from “wiki,” which is open source software that anyone can edit on the Internet. (It comes from a Hawaiian word meaning “quick.”) 

A wiki, the authors say, is a metaphor for a new era of participation that is ushering in profound change on a global scale. 

The wiki encompasses four powerful concepts: openness, peering, sharing, and acting globally. 

All of these can be seen in the most widely known application: Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. Wikipedia is open to anyone to edit. It is peer-produced by thousands of volunteers. They freely share their knowledge. Contributors are from around the world, writing for a global audience.

Wikipedia has more than two million articles in English, and millions of other articles in more than 250 other languages. It is constantly growing in both quantity and accuracy. Its content is free for all to use and to make contributions.

Wikis are of obvious benefit for computer nerds and non-profit ventures like Wikipedia. “Wikinomics,” however, describes many examples of how the wiki concept is changing the wider world, including Big Business.

IBM spends $100 million per year contributing to Linux, the open-source computer operating system. IBM joins thousands of others in improving the product, which is then available to anyone, anywhere, free of charge. 

Why does IBM do it? For several reasons. The company saves much more than it would spend to develop its own system. It allows the company access to better software than its competitors. As well, it develops new partners for the company in the open source community. 

“IBM provides a surprising example of how a large, mature company with an ingrained proprietary culture can embrace openness and self-organization as catalysts for re-invention,” the authors say.

IBM is just one of many. Proctor and Gamble now gets one-third of its new product ideas from contributors outside the company. (Swiffer Duster and Crest SpinBrush are two such products.)

Boeing actively involved its suppliers in designing the new 787 Dreamliner.

“While the sleek, fuel-efficient 787 is an amazing showcase of new technologies, the real story lies in how the plane has been created,” the authors point out. 

The new ethos of sharing and openness - even communal ownership - is a cultural shift for many corporations. 

Toy maker Lego at first threatened lawsuits against its customers who redesigned its programmable robot toys. The company then completely changed its approach. 

Lego now invites its customers to help create new products. The result, a Lego executive says, is “a totally different business paradigm.”

Another interesting set of observations in Wikinomics concerns the “Net Generation,” a term coined by Tapscott in an earlier book.

The Net generation – those born between 1977 and 1996 – is the first to be immersed in the Internet. This generation has not only new technological skills, but also a new world view. 

Whereas their Baby Boomer parents passively watched TV, Net Generation kids actively participate in their media. The authors note that they have been “nourished on instant messaging, chat groups, play lists, peer-to-peer file sharing, and online multi-player video games.”

The Net Generation, the authors say, is “bringing a new ethic of openness, participation, and interactivity to workplaces, communities, and markets.”

Asserting that “the culture of generosity is the very backbone of the Internet,” the authors describe how the new generation is having a profound social impact. “They have a very strong sense of the common good and of collective social and civic responsibility.”

Tapscott and Williams are effusive in their hopes for the changes underway.

“This may be the birth of a new era, perhaps even a golden one, on par with the Italian renaissance or the rise of Athenian democracy.” 

I share the authors' sense of excitement, optimism, and wonder. I have been delighted to see a new world emerging as my Net Generation kids have grown up. And I look forward to exploring these ideas in future columns. 

In the meantime, I heartily recommend Wikinomics as an intriguing guide to this new age.

* * *

See also:

Deepening Our Thinking in the Internet Age:  Ten Tips

The Bathrobe Millionaire - Review

The 4-Hour Workweek - Review 

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