The Wealth of Networks: Peer Production and Distribution

August 3, 2008 at 8:43 pm 2 comments

Not many years ago, distance and time were barriers to keep humans around the world connected with each other.   Global community was only a part of a fiction book or a fairy tale. However, now thanks to the internet and the creation of social networks, humans are part of a global community. The Wealth of Networks provides an overview about how new technology has overcome not only distance and time, but has permitted peer participation as well.  Peer participation has created social production and distribution (part of a new non-market model).  In this new model, peers have the opportunity to create, participate and freely share their ideas, this way; it raises cultural diversity and justice delivery around the world.  In addition, the author offers information about some of the motives behind the reason of peer participation in this non-market model.  However, the author doesn’t spend enough time elaborating about the negative impacts of peer production and distribution. Especially because peers are the main participants of this new non-market model, hence why it is important for the reader to be aware that some peers will use technology to create and others to destroy or cause problems.

The Wealth of Networks talks about a transformation in the redistribution of power and money by providing more opportunities for individuals (peers) to create and become part of a global community by creating social networks. These social relations have democratized culture by building social ties with friends, family and people around the world.  As a result, a non-market model was born, in which, peer to peer production and distribution was vital.  However, this peer participation can affect the way that humans interact with technology, “One should treat the role of technology in the development of human affairs” (16).  For example, the author mentioned that different technologies can make different kinds of human action and interaction easier or harder to perform.  Even though, it is true that technology doesn’t work for everyone and some take advantage of it and some don’t, the negative impact that this technology is causing goes beyond this.  Now it is about using this new technology to destroy others.  The author neglects to mention that some of the risks of peer production and distribution are that some peers use social networks for other purposes (harassments, bullying, stalking, child pornography, identity theft and the creation of computer virus).  This misuse is a very important point to mention since peers are the main participants of it. 

 Peer production and distribution has created a process of social communication where they share information and exchange their points of view about social issues. This is described by the author as a public sphere phenomenon, in which, peers can debate and advocate on events happening around the world, like social justice. He explains how mass media has played a very important role in building the public sphere in liberal democracies in history.  Throughout most of chapter 6, the author provides some historical examples like Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette during the revolution era or Radio Broadcast that proposed a national endowed fund to fund broadcaster.  He also mentions that nonmarket producers (peers) can complement commercial mass media and contribute to improve the public sphere, especially in authoritarian countries as he points out on most of chapter 7.  It is true that peer production has allowed many around the world to participate in the improvement of public sphere by advocating through e-mail, blogs, videos and news. However, he states that this new way of exchanging information and points of view can create too many observations, making it very difficult to filter all these observations.  Another problem, not mentioned in the book, is that sometimes this information created by peers can be manipulated or based on pure peer speculations and creating a sense of a false reality in the world.  For example, during the 911 tragedy many peers sent speculated information to peers living in Mexico about the 911 event and the future of many immigrants living in the United States.  This created fear for many families living in Mexico whose relatives were living in this country at that time.   

Lastly, peer production and distribution created a free and open software model, like the Linux system or Mozilla Firefox. This can create and incentive for peers to create and participate. Some of the motives of peer production and distribution can be monetary rewards and nonmonetary.   Some peers are looking for immortality rather than money and others will use this as a way of introducing their work to later charge for it through consulting or service contracts. However, the author mentions that this non-market exchange system requires fix costs and these costs are not possible to be paid by everybody in the world, especially for peers living in poor countries “peer-to-peer file-sharing systems build on the fact that individual users own vast quantities of excess capacity embedded in their personal computers” (83).  This provides awareness that this technology is not available to everyone in the world.  However, the author forgot to mention another very important subject about the possibility of these digital networks increasing copyright violations, which also makes rights holders to argue for increased copyright protection [Cheverie J. (2002) Managing Technology].  In this same article, Cheverie mentions that copyrights increase both quantity and quality of creative work.

In conclusion, The Wealth of Networks provides an opportunity for the reader to learn more about how the internet and social production and distribution has changed the market industry.  It created a new non-market model, in which, peers are the main participants and the motives for this peer contribution.  Although, the author neglected to provide more information in regards to some of the consequences created by pure peer participation and motivation, overall, it is a good book for someone who wants to learn more about social production and distribution, peer participation and contribution, and how this has allowed humans to be more connected than ever before in human history.




Entry filed under: Review.

Media Economics Reflection Howard Rheingold Questions

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. christyluther  |  August 6, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    Hi Rubi,

    I enjoyed reading your review of The Wealth of Networks. You summarized the book and brought up some good points.

    I particularly liked the point that you brought up about the lack of discussion regarding “smart mobs,” as Howard Rheingold calls them – the groups that are formed online to work for evil rather than for good. I hadn’t noticed the absence of that in Benkler’s book, but I think it is a valid point to address. I would be curious to hear him elaborate on that topic. I also enjoyed your additional anecdote about the effect of the peer-manipulated portrayal of 9-11 on Mexico and immigrants. That added a personal touch that was interesting to read about.

    The constructive criticism that I can offer is to perhaps separate the summary paragraphs from your critiques. It seemed as though your good critiques came after a summary. I think it would highlight your arguments if you moved the critique to the beginning of each paragraph and used the following sentences to then explain why/summarize. On a similar structural note, your introductory paragraph does a nice job of introducing the book and offering the pros and cons upfront.

    Overall, I thought your review was good. You addressed valid points, introduced new ideas and gave a straightforward recommendation for The Wealth of Networks. It is evident that you read the book and took the time to evaluate and reflect upon Benkler’s ideas.

  • 2. TWoN Reviews « Net-Centric Economics  |  August 27, 2008 at 10:56 am

    […] Rubi […]

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