Is the Internet Space Sustainable for the Freedom in the Commons Model?

February 17, 2009 at 12:20 am Leave a comment

Hardin G. (1968). Science Magazine: The Tragedy of the Commons

In this article the author reflects on how the freedom in the commons can affect us in the long run “Freedom in the commons brings ruin to all.” He explains that the problem lands in the system that requires men to increase his herd without limit in a world that has limits. This problem is created by the overpopulation that equals an overpopulated planet where every man wants to consume its resources with no restrictions, but what does this have to do with technology, especially with the freedom in the commons in the internet? If we compare the overpopulated planet with a scenario of an overpopulated internet, does this mean that the freedom in the commons will affect the internet the same way that is affecting the world? If the internet will run out of memory space due to the overloaded information resulted by the freedom in the commons, then networks like Wikipedia that provides freedom in the commons have to evaluate this problem before is too late as the internet world has also its own sustainability limits.

According to Harding if we have a pasture open to all, then every herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons and that this agreement can work for a limited time until the pasture is no longer sustainable because the cattle will continue to grow bringing ruin to all. For example, if we say that Wikipedia is the pasture and the herdsman is every collaborator and the cattle is all the information posted in Wikipedia, then this means that one day as the information continues to grow this will ruin Wikipedia because it would reach its memory capacity and would no longer be sustainable. However, if they consider these “signals of change” in regards to the need of physical space then the industry will recognize it and will invest to built smaller data memories networks that will use less physical space and provide more memory capacity to buy some time, before space is not sustainable anymore.

In this regard Harding observes that technology and other natural factors will only buy some time, but that eventually the planet will not be sustainable. The effort of companies to invest in building technology that uses less physical space may buy some time before the space runs out. In Wikipedia’s case the foundation that started Wikipedia will have to invest in technology that allows them to increase their memory’s capacity in order to support the freedom in the commons. To this respect, Clayton Christensen points out in his book Seeing What’s Next, that one big obstacle for innovation in technology is the lack of economic resources. This means that Wikipedia and other networks that follow the freedom in the commons model must have the financial resources to invest in a technology that sustains the demands of this model. However, if Wikipedia and the other networks lack of economic resources to invest in this technology, then they will run out of memory space much faster.

Why is technology innovation important for Wikipedia? One of the reasons is that according to the article What’s in Wikipedia and What’s not…? By Cindy Royal and Deepina Kapila, Wikipedia is now the Web’s third most popular news and information source and has more unique visitors than other networks. This may present a problem because if Wikipedia continues to be the number one or the only network choice for visitors to obtain needed information then information networks that don’t follow the freedom in the commons model won’t invest as their services will not be demanded. This will make Wikipedia the only or the main resource of information available in internet and if they don’t have the resources to invest on new technology (a technology capable of store all the information that the freedom in the commons demands) then this freedom model represents a potential problem.

In conclusion, the model of freedom in the commons use by networks like Wikipedia will accelerate the process in which the Internet will no longer be sustainable. Unless they have the financial resources to invest in technology that will delay this process, making the Internet sustainability last longer.


Royal, C. Kapila, D. (2008). Social Science Computer Review: What’s o Wikipedia, and What’s not…?: Assessing Completeness of Information.

Christensen, C. Scott, A. Roth, E (2004). Seeing What’s Next. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.


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Discussion Reflection Should Archivist Be Concerned About Electronic Storage?

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