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Yoshai Benkler

Yochai Benkler is an influential scholar in the field of economics and information law, who has extensively studied the impact of the internet on society, production, and collaboration. His work is rooted in the economic theories of transaction costs, Coase, and Williams, as well as the ideas of Moglen’s Law and Raymond’s Law, which suggest that excess capacity and coordination mechanisms can lead to the production of valuable products and that a large enough group can solve problems effectively.

Benkler’s research primarily focuses on the various ways in which production is organized, such as markets, hierarchies, and Commons-Based Peer Production (CBPP). CBPP is a model that relies on decentralized collaboration and social motivation, rather than prices or commands, to create information products. It has two key characteristics: decentralization and the use of social cues and motivations.

CBPP relies on three structural attributes: modularity, granularity, and low-cost integration. Modularity refers to the division of tasks into manageable pieces, while granularity ensures that these tasks can be broken down into small enough components. Low-cost integration allows for the efficient combination of these modules and the ability to weed out poor or malicious contributions.

Benkler highlights that CBPP gains an advantage over traditional market and firm models because it enables self-identification and self-selection, attracting individuals who are best suited for specific tasks. This results in a higher probability of assembling the most productive teams for a project. Examples of successful CBPP projects include GNU/Linux, Wikipedia, and SETI@home.

However, CBPP is not without its limitations. Communication and integration costs, granularity issues, and potential duplication of efforts are among the challenges facing CBPP. Yet, this model can be effective when combined with traditional market and firm models, creating a symbiotic relationship that benefits all parties involved.

People participate in CBPP for various reasons, including extrinsic rewards such as enhancing reputation and building social networks, as well as intrinsic motivations like personal satisfaction and a sense of belonging. Legal devices like the GPL, social norms, and technological constraints help facilitate CBPP by ensuring cooperation and reducing antisocial behavior.

Benkler suggests that CBPP is not a completely new production model, as similar structures have existed historically (e.g., folk myths). However, the global networked nature of modern CBPP is unprecedented. A successful outcome of CBPP would be an ecology that fosters collaboration and symbiosis between various parties, such as Trolltech and SUN Microsystems, leading to shorter production cycles, valuable feedback from peers, and the emergence of “prosumers” who are both producers and consumers of products.

Page last modified: 2023-05-06 16:44:40