Both Clay Shirky and Michel Bauwens emphasize the importance of the “coordinating resource” of the concept of the social web. While in chapter 5 of Shirky’s Here Comes Everyone he focuses on the impact of Wikipedia and its reasons for success, Bauwens piece on “the social web and its social contracts” aim to convey the same message – we exist in a world where participants of the internet appreciate the process of sharing and implement it as a very important social tool. Through Shirky’s chapter one can use the example of Wikipedia to understand the complex argument presented by Bauwens regarding the concepts of the sharing economy, benefit sharing, social platform owners, and the overall notion of the social web. Wikipedia itself is a social commons founded upon the basis of “collaborative production” – there would simply be no Wikipedia if those participants in the community did not make the edits to continuously improve the plethora of information available on the site.
In Bauwens article, “The Social Web and its Social Contracts”, he explains the social web in terms of social sharing. He claims that “we appreciate the facilitation of the sharing processes and we understand that operating such platforms comes with a cost, and with an expectation of profitability.” In other words, as internet users we have come to understand that in order for these sites to operate and permit the culture of sharing, there must be some sort of business model or monetary system that supports the platform. Though there are many commons-based sites like Wikipedia and Craigslist that do not accept advertising, places like Google and YouTube employ “benefit sharing” as a way for their users to “create social wealth” while the platforms “monetize” the content shared. Bauwens’ entire explanation seems to be a bit complicated for the ending point that he eventually arrives at in the end where he states it is likely that “peer to peer will be the dominant logic of value creation, and that this value creation of immaterial value, will take the form of an abundant and reproducible commons of open knowledge.” Basically, the social web is leading us down a path where most communities on the Internet will be mostly “open-source” and adhering to the same logic of the previously discussed GPL. The social communities and relationships that we form in reality will soon transcend into the virtual realm where the collaborations and participation by users all over the world will create “a commons of open knowledge.” This prediction is highly evident in the instance of the incredible power behind the shared logic of a site like Wikipedia.
Shirky’s discussion of Wikipedia was truly quite intriguing in that I never really realized how our previous discussions from the past few weeks of class on the power law distribution (i.e. on social network sites and the hierarchy of the internet) would come into play in a setting like that of the Wiki. As explained on page 124, “the power law distribution occurs in social settings where some set of items – users, pictures, tags – is ranked by frequency of occurrence.” This ecosystem of sharing therefore relies on those who contribute the most edits per article in terms of the 80/20 rule. The user that adds the most to the article, (let’s use good ol’ SCEhardt the asphalt expert as an example), will be far more active than the average contributor. This “predictable imbalance” should not be looked at as a negative thing however; instead, we should use this imbalance to understand its necessity in understanding the “behavior of the collective” users of Wikipedia (Shirky 128). The site is a commons of individual actions that make up an ongoing systematic process of improvement. The Wiki-ecosystem does not need to rely on a division of labor, the “necessary laziness” of the contributors appreciate the amount of freedom they have to improve the site and therefore are driven to the eventual individual action of even adding a single edit to a topic of their desire. People simply just want to make a mark on the world and be part of something and Wikipedia allows this to occur. The non-financial motivation to do a good thing and contribute just makes you feel good inside! Someone out there is definitely going to appreciate your extremely random fact about three-toed sloths in Peru.
The ideas of Shirky and Bauwens meet when Wikipedia and its community of Wikipedians in terms of the potential vandalism that has occurred (and currently occurs on a regular basis) on the site. The fact that Wikipedia has yet to be “destroyed” signals that the community of Wikipedians that work so hard on a 24/7 basis to maintain the site and its accuracy adheres to a particular social contract that dictates that when people care enough about something, “they come together and accomplish things of a scope and longevity that were previously impossible” (Shirky 142). People care about Wikipedia and the information on there – they do not want false information about celebrities and they do not want fake facts about the population of puppies in U.S. homes. People rely on Wikipedia as a reference site, for better or for worse, and they will continue to rely on the communal “love” of Wikipedia as a “building material” that will serve to impart information for many more years to come. I mean, come on, there’s even an app for that. 🙂
(*** Any iPhone/iPod Touch users interested in the Wikipedia app – go and download it from the app store – it’s free and actually pretty cool with a neat article of the day!)