Wealth of Networks

Yochai Benkler’s book “Wealth of Networks” is a very ambitious attempt to understand how the internet is changing society.  He argues this technology is shifting the nature of economic production for “information goods” from an industrial model to a networked model, characterized by what he calls “commons based peer-production.”  According to Benkler, the internet makes it easier for people to contribute their time and knowledge (through mediums such as blogs and forum). In turn, this phenomenon makes room for non-capital, non-market activities, thereby enabling greater media creation and consumption, and more political participation. However this can be positive or negative. For example, sharing music online through file sharing programs was once extremely easy. There were programs such as Limewire and Frostwire that allowed users to download any music they wanted for free.  In order to put a stop to this, record companies pushed for stricter copyright protections and began suing ordinary people ridiculous amounts of money.  As a result, the practice has died down due to people’s fear of being punished.

Benkler speaks on copyrights, patents, and privatization.  He seems to strongly oppose the privatizing of information which allows owners to exercise copyrights.  This made me think of one thing…how are people going to make money? If we got rid of copyrights and patents of information on the web, and everyone was entitled to freely use and reproduce the information, how would the creators of the information be rewarded?  Benkler really doesn’t seem that interested in this question because I didn’t see an answer while reading his book.  However, I came to the conclusion that the creators of information would have to be satisfied with intrinsic rewards instead of extrinsic awards such as money.  However, I don’t think that will happen any time soon.

Another question that came to mind while reading this was what happens to existing business models? It’s obvious that some areas are suffering due to the revolution of internet. For example ordinary people are taking the jobs once met for newspapers and magazines.  Instead of people looking to those mediums for entertainment or news, they are turning to their peers on the internet.  How do those companies adjust? Well, as we have seen, either they go out or business or they adjust by making their material available on the web.  Unfortunately, we’ve seen others companies like Blockbuster go out of business because of online companies such as Netflix.

All in all, this was a great read.  What’s even more interesting is the fact this book was written 2006. It is not 2011 and I can see some of the things Benkler discusses in his book happening today.

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