Jaron Lanier posted his impressive article called Digital Maoism in May, 2006. Below one of the most interesting conversations on Wikipedia, open source, crowdsourcing, global brain, Web 2.0 and social networks I have seen in years. Posts from Kevin Kelly, Clay Shirky, Cory Doctorow, Esther Dyson, Howard Rheingold, Douglas Rushkoff, Yochai Benkler, Dan Gilmore, Jimmy Wales and others in this link within Edge. I wonder how this article relates the main thesis of The Long Tail.
Highly recommended !
"Commons-based peer production in Wikipedia, open source software, and prediction markets is collective action, not collectivism. Collective action involves freely chosen self-election (which is almost always coincident with self-interest) and distributed coordination; collectivism involves coercion and centralized control; treating the Internet as a commons doesn't mean it is communist. Networked-based, distributed, social production, both individual and cooperative, offers a new system, alongside markets, firms, governments, and traditional non-profits, within which individuals can engage in information, knowledge, and cultural production. This new modality of production offers new challenges, and new opportunities. It is the polar opposite of Maoism. It is based on enhanced individual capabilities, employing widely distributed computation, communication, and storage in the hands of individuals with insight, motivation, and time, and deployed at their initiative through technical and social networks, either individually or in loose voluntary associations.
Wikipedia is best viewed as an engaged community that uses a large and growing number of regulatory mechanisms to manage a huge set of proposed edits. "Digital Maoism" specifically rejects that point of view, setting up a false contrast with open source projects like Linux, when in fact the motivations of contributors are much the same. With both systems, there are a huge number of casual contributors and a small number of dedicated maintainers, and in both systems part of the motivation comes from appreciation of knowledgeable peers rather than the general public. Contra Lanier, individual motivations in Wikipedia are not only alive and well, it would collapse without them.
Popurls.com is similarly and oddly added to the argument, but there is in fact no meta-collectivity algorithm at work here — Popurls just an aggregation of RSS feeds. You might as well go after my.yahoo if that's the kind of thing that winds you up. And the ranking systems that are aggregated all display different content, suggesting real subtleties in the interplay of algorithm and audience, rather than a homogenizing hive mind at work. You wouldn't know it, though, to read the broad-brush criticism of Popurls here. And that is the missed opportunity of "The Digital Maoism": there are things wrong with RSS aggregators, ranking algorithms, group editing tools, and voting, things we should identify and try to fix. But the things wrong with voting aren't wrong with editing tools, and the things wrong with ranking algorithms aren't wrong with aggregators.
We are too much in a hurry to wait around for a pure hive mind. Our technological systems are marked by the fact that we have introduced intelligent design into them. This is the top-down control we insert to speed and direct a system toward our goals. Every technological system, including Wikipedia, has design in it. What's new is only this: never before have we been able to make systems with as much "hive" in it as we have recently made with the Web. Until this era, technology was primarily all control, all design. Now it can be design and hive. In fact, this Web 2.0 business is chiefly the first step in exploring all the ways in which we can combine design and the hive in innumerable permutations. We are tweaking the dial in hundreds of combos: dumb writers, smart filters; smart writers, dumb filters, ad infinitum.
Furthermore, I know it is heresy, but it might be that the Wikipedia model is not good for very much more than writing universal encyclopedias. Perhaps the article length is fortuitously the exactly right length for the smart mob, and maybe a book is exactly the wrong length. However while the 2006 Wikipedia process may not be the best way to make a textbook, or create the encyclopedia of all species, or dispense the news, the 2056 Wikipedia process, with far more design in it, may be. It may be equally heretical (but not to this group) to suggest that the hive mind will write far more of our textbooks, and databases and news than anyone might believe right now."