Book Review: Wikinomics

January 2, 2007

As founder of Bessed, a human-powered search site that encourages visitors to shape search results, I was excited to get an advance copy of Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams. With me they’d just be preaching to the choir, but I was ready to hear the sermon.

The premise of Wikinomics is simple: the more your company lets outsiders in, or even turns the company over to the masses, the more new ideas are generated, the more new products are developed, and the more problems are solved. On the flip side, however, if your company wants to make money, you need to think long and hard about how open-sourcing fits with your business model, or figure out a business model that can take the fruits of mass collaboration and fashion saleable products and services around them. The potential is huge, and the risks may be fewer than you think.

The first thing that pops into your head when you hear Wikinomics is probably Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit (although don’t be surprised if your edits don’t last long). Wikipedia is the ultimate example of using the knowledge of thousands of diverse people to create something exceedingly useful—and something that even a large team of researchers couldn’t have created through decades of work.

Wikipedia is not a for-profit company, however. So, while it’s a great example of what can be accomplished, it’s not a great example of what can be accomplished at a profit. Luckily, Tapscott and Williams attack the question of “how can this make us money?” through the discussion of several business frameworks. These include:

  • Peering (indirectly building business through participation in open-source projects)
  • Ideagoras (marketplaces where businesses can post their R&D needs to the masses and reward the problem-solvers, or offer up their unused inventions that would otherwise lie dormant and in secret)
  • Embracing the Prosumer (encouraging/supporting customers who “hack” your products, creating new features or uses that your company would have never thought of on its own)
  • New Alexandrians (breaking down the proprietary walls in the sciences, namely in the fight against disease)
  • Platforms for Participation (opening up your technology to allow others to create or even profit from its use, which may add to your bottom line and/or strengthen your brand)

Tapscott and Williams use many specific examples, from IBM’s contributions to building the free software Linux to Proctor & Gamble’s goal to outsource half its R&D, to Merck releasing thousands of human gene sequences to the public domain. What’s nice about the many examples the authors chose is that they aren’t all technology companies, proving that this isn’t just an IT phenomenon. (In fact, the book opens with a story about a very old-school industry, gold mining—Canadian company Goldcorp made its maps and research public, and outsiders very successfully pinpointed where more gold would be found.)

I was also glad to see the book acknowledge the huge issue associated with putting intellectual property in the hands of the masses. If your company spent money to create it, why and under what circumstances should some or all of it be freely shared? That’s the question any company who wants to profit from the wisdom of the masses (or that sees its business model threatened by it) needs to answer.

I had a few quibbles with the book. Neither its “Global Plant Floor” nor “Wiki Workplace” sections offered especially new ideas or insights—globalization isn’t new, collaborating and soliciting ideas in the workplace isn’t either, even if new technologies offer some slightly new spins on these phenomena. I also found myself daydreaming while reading the book. Sometimes this was because an idea or example made me start thinking about how to use it in my own business. Other times, unfortunately, I slipped off when the writing got overly jargony, saying little with a lot of words.

That aside, Wikinomics is an important book for any company or business person trying to understand how to thrive in an age where traditional top-down, command-and-control structures are being aggressively challenged. Mass collaboration may be a flash in the pan, but as some have already found out (i.e., the record industry), ignoring it could leave you burned.

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.

One comment

  1. […] just read Wikinomics (review here) and was glad to see this issue brought up.  Because I think it’s gret if content creators […]

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