Basic v. Network: The Information Economy

In The Wealth of Networks, Yochai Benkler approaches various topics dealing with the evolution of networks and communication.  Through the first three chapters of the book, there are several key concepts that I am going to discuss.  Those main concepts are as followed: the networked information economy, the basic information economics, and peer production.  I’ll run through a quick summary of each, and then offer a critique.

The networked information economy deals with the changing landscape of the transfer of information.  Over the past 150 years, information has been packaged in a commercially digestible way, but that is changing.  The idea of the network information economy is completely reversing history.  They deal with a decentralization of information mediums. Benkler argues that this decentralization allows for numerous paths for the flow of information that were previously limited by central media sources.  What makes this possible?  The availability and ease of Internet communication and the dominant form of information is centered on communication.  This allows for a “common good” approach to the exchange of communication.

The basic information economy takes a different approach to information than a networked information economy.  Instead of treating information as a method to help the “common good,” it points towards the individual.  In the basic information economy, an emphasis is placed on ownership, namely copyright.  The networked information economy has shaken up the communication process and has called into question the ideas of creative ownership and distribution.  Traditionally, when someone creates something original, they copyright it and more often than not, try to find monetary benefit.  With this new idea of decentralization, the lines have blurred.  Individuals and groups are creating programs for the public good, questioning the status and position of copyright.

Finally, Benkler discusses peer production.  The idea of peer production is that users pool resources, in an individual or group, and create content for the public.  The perfect example of this is the largest online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.  Wikipedia has changed the way we access information online, and it is only made possible by individuals contributing on a massive scale.  The content is user generated and falls into the public forum i.e. no one owns the content.  As the Internet continues to revolutionize the way information is transferred, peer production will be and more of a hot topic.

The three ideas Benkler presents, offer an insightful approach to the “new” information age.  I love the idea of peer collaboration to tackle problems and create massive online resources for the public good, but I struggle with a lack of emphasis on creative property.  Growing up in the U.S., it is engrained in me the idea of owning property and finding ways to capitalize on it, whether it is land, stocks, rights, etc.  I am under the belief that if someone creates an idea, they should be able to retain the rights to the idea and also the ability to capitalize on it.  (Disclaimer: loaded question coming) Which form provides more freedom, allowing someone to own an original creation, or give it up for the public good?  My opinion?  Projects that potentially could have a negative effect on the public good if not made public, then make it public.  If not, I think the creator should determine if the ownership is to be passed to the public.

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