Sunday, September 03, 2006

Wealth of Networks?

I read Yochi Benkler's excellent Wealth of Networks for an independent study this summer and since then I've been thinking quite a bit about his ideas on emerging forms of distributed production. One note often scrawled in the margins of my copy of Benkler's book is the constant question "Who Benefits?" (often in huge, emphatic capital letters, messily underlined, with 4 or 5 question marks). Sure you can break down huge, complex tasks into small modules that can be worked on collaboratively by network-connected individuals, but how can we be sure that the collaborators reap the rewards of their efforts?

Since then I've been noticing news stories like this one:

that interest me along those lines. It seems Google is using user inputs derived from a sort of game to help generate tag information for sorting images. This article on OReilly sums up my own reactions pretty well

Basically, is a project like this one, where many folks collaborate and contribute (all for, just as Benkler predicted, non-monetary compensation) but it seems to me pretty clear that it is Google that gets the lions share of the benefit from the resulting work, really the sort of thing those of us interested in the radical potential of distributed production are looking for?

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