What drives the culture of participation?

1. First, Nicholas Carr, the naysayer of “IT does not matter” fame, kicked it off with a rant titled “Amorality of web 2.0“. It has caused quite a stir in the blogosphere. He does point out some fairly basic errors in the Wikipedia that should serve as food for thought for the Wikipedians. But it seems that the conclusions he draws are a non-sequitur. 2. Om Malik joined issue. We all know Om likes to have the last word, so he rejoined the issue. Some excellent links here including Jeff Jarvis’s. 3. Erick Schonfeld has a good rejoinder (read the comments as well).     Overall, you still don’t get a handle on what is driving this phenomenon.  The Linux/Apache communities  and the entire open source communities have already proven that  billions of dollars of economic value can be created. Now if you ask, who benefits, I think everyone does. Therefore, we can just analogize and say that – Web 2.0  does for the masses, what open-source has done for the technology folks. Better still, i think Web 2.0 does to any practitioner what open-source has done for the technology practitioner – the term practitioner standing for an active participant of any skilled activity be it politics or media or anything. I don’t think all rewards need to be monetary (again open-source has already proven that). Let us look at what Yochai Benckler has said in his brilliant paper “Coase’s Penguin“. He  has developed an equation that goes like this (I have made the equation a bit simpler than the original):

R(Rewards) = M(Monetary) + H(Hedonistic Gains) + SP(Socio-Psyhcological Rewards). 

M rewards are obvious. H rewards are for people who do something just for the pleasure of it. A majority of open-source programmers and many bloggers may fit this category. SP is actually a very interesting area. As an example, the myriad Blog Popularity ratings (technorati 100, feedster 500 etc.) satisfy this need somewhat in the blogosphere. A lot of work needs to be done in this area across the entire Web 2.0 world. In the physical world as well, when communities gather, money can be made (the company that provides lunch, banner advertisements,  meeting area, janitorial services..) and it does get made. So what is wrong in making money if you are able to architect communities like Flickr. In sum, I think the culture of participation taps into the innate gregarious nature of human beings and helps build virtual communities that benefits all of humanity. What is different in Web 2.0 is that we now have easily-accessible, mostly-free and very user-friendly tools to participate with. Notes:
1. I came across Coase’s Penguin via Mitch Kapor’s blog in the early part of this year. As Mitch says this paper is a bit dense ( I have read it 3 times already can’t say I have understood it 100%). Benckler’s concept of “commons-based peer production model”  provides an excellent framework for why open-source or in general the culture of participation works so well.

1. Paul Graham, “The Sage of Silicon Valley” (my coinage) wrote a must-read essay on “What businesses can learn from open source” a while back. 2. Eric Steven Raymond’s Cathedral and the Bazaar. Brilliant essay on open source. He is one of the leaders of the open-source community. 4. Ross Mayfield wrote an excellent post “Wikimaniacs or Wikirealists” that has some relevant ideas.