Peer Production and Sharing Supplement

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I am made nervous by many of the examples Yochai Benkler brings up in "Peer Production and Sharing." Help me figure out if I have just cause to worry.

Ideal Market

The most pervasive mode of 'decentralization,' however, is the ideal market. Each individual agent acts according to his or her will. Coherence and efficacy emerge because individuals signal their wishes, and plan their behavior not in cooperation with others, but by coordinating, understanding the will of others and expressing their own through the price system (4)

Is decentralization in this sense a libertarian's fantasy? We know that Benkler understands that a price system doesn't necessarily apply to this decentralized system, but what are we privileging when we view decentralized cultural production as an act of exchange between idealized subjects?

Science as an Ideal Model

This kind of information production by agents operating on a decentralized, non proprietary model is not completely new. Science is built by many people contributing incrementally-not operating on market signals, not being handed their research marching orders by a boss-independently deciding what to research, bringing their collaboration together, and creating science. (4)

Again, I'm not sure if these examples should be idealized. First off, I do not think science operates in this way (just remember all the science and politics articles you read in STS class). Second, the accumulation of knowledge by equal actors is a scientist's fantasy of what science is. Again, what kind of system of production is Benkler proposing when he suggests the creation of science as ideal?

Depoliticizing Free Software Brings Political Debate

Open source and its wide adoption in the business and bureaucratic mainstream allowed free software to emerge from the fringes of the software world and move to the center of the public debate about practical alternatives to the current way of doing things. (6)

Sure, large companies use and support peer produced systems, but does that really make them question something like capitalism or the nature of their profits? I think not.

No Actor Is An Island, But a Work Can Be Complete

He could not write a whole operating system by himself. Instead, he released pieces of his code under a license that allowed anyone to copy, distribute, and modify the software in whatever way they pleased. (4)

First, there is an initial utterance of a humanly meaningful statement. Writing an article or drawing a picture, whether done by a professional or an amateur, whether high quality or low, is such an action. (7)

I question how an actor makes an utterance, or a complete statement, when he actor needs the help of others to build something larger. The relationship between an independent/dependent actor, and coherent/non-coherent work confuses me (and this goes beyond the Unix philosophy of many small tools).

Gobbledygook As Negative

The person or small group starts by developing a part of this project, up to a point where the whole utility-if it is simple enough-or some important part of it, is functional, though it might have much room for improvement. (6)

In particular, an utterance must be understood as "relevant" in some sense, and "credible." Relevance is a subjective question of mapping an utterance on the conceptual map of a given user seeking information for a particular purpose defined by that individual. (7)

They built in redundancy and automated averaging out of both errors and purposeful erroneous markings-like those of an errant art student who thought it amusing to mark concentric circles on the map. (8)

How are we to know that the content produced by widely dispersed individuals is not sheer gobbledygook? (12)

Benkler is FAR too practical here: he posits these cultural utterances as a unifying system of functional products. Where does the production of art, irrationality, anti-work, and nonsense come into play?

Post-Industrial Capitalism As Positive

The clickworkers project was a particularly clear example of how a complex professional task that requires a number of highly trained individuals on full-time salaries can be reorganized so as to be performed by tens of thousands of volunteers in increments so minute that the tasks could be performed on a much lower budget. The low budget would be devoted to coordinating the volunteer effort. However, the raw human capital needed would be contributed for the fun of it. (8)

This is a perfect example of capture operating within an information economy (not to mention unpaid labor without alienation). I know Benkler mentions jealousy of paid vs. non-paid workers in other articles, but this statement flaunts this mode of production with no critical thought.

Motives for Peer Production

The point to see from this quotation is that the participants of Wikipedia are plainly people who like to write. (10)

Again, I know Benkler discusses diverse motives in other places, but this is absurd. The people who edit Wikipedia do so to promote a certain image within an article... think Wiki Scanner.

Enlightenment Ideals As Peer Based

The important point is that Wikipedia requires not only mechanical cooperation among people, but a commitment to a particular style of writing and describing concepts that is far from intuitive or natural to people. It requires self-discipline. It enforces the behavior it requires primarily through appeal to the common enterprise that the participants are engaged in, coupled with a thoroughly transparent platform that faithfully records and renders all individual interventions in the common project and facilitates discourse among participants about how their contributions do, or do not, contribute to this common enterprise. (10)

How can you not think of a decentralized discipline society here? This is a description Bentham's idealized work force! The only difference between this and Amazon is that we don't see a corporation controlling the masses, but an in-the-name-of-truth ideal. Why doesn't Benkler question this drive towards small and discreet processes?

Citizen vs. Corporation

The broader point to take from looking at peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, however, is the sheer effectiveness of large-scale collaboration among individuals once they possess, under their individual control, the physical capital necessary to make their cooperation effective. (18)

The praise of these peer production networks in outpacing the proprietary industry is interesting. He pits CITIZENS against CORPORATIONS, and we need to understand why this battle between these specific two entities is important.

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