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Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Howard Rheingold's Latest Connection via Bweek

The tech guru sees a "new economic system" in the unconscious cooperation embodied by Google links and Amazon lists.With his last book, Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, in 2001, the longtime observer of technology trends made a persuasive case that pervasive mobile communications, combined with always-on Internet connections, will produce new kinds of ad-hoc social groups. Now, he's starting to take the leap beyond smart mobs, trying to weave some threads out of such seemingly disparate developments as Web logs, open-source software development, and Google. Howard thinks that the next social revolution may be based on collective action, unintentional though. He gives the following examples,"Google is based on the emergent choices of people who link. Nobody is really thinking, "I'm now contributing to Google's page rank." What they're thinking is, "This link is something my readers would really be interested in." They're making an individual judgment that, in the aggregate, turns out to be a pretty good indicator of what's the best source.Then there's open source [software]. Steve Weber, a political economist at UC Berkeley, sees open source as an economic means of production that turns the free-rider problem to its advantage. All the people who use the resource but don't contribute to it just build up a larger user base. And if a very tiny percentage of them do anything at all -- like report a bug -- then those free riders suddenly become an asset.Then you look at Amazon and its recommendation system, getting users to provide free reviews, users sharing choices with their friends, users who make lists of products. They get a lot of free advice that turns out to be very useful in the aggregate. There's also Wikipedia [the online encyclopedia written by volunteers]. It has 500,000 articles in 50 languages at virtually no cost, vs. Encyclopedia Britannica spending millions of dollars and they have 50,000 articles".
All these could dramatically transform not only the way people do business, but economic production altogether. We had markets, then we had capitalism, and socialism was a reaction to industrial-era capitalism. There's been an assumption that since communism failed, capitalism is triumphant, therefore humans have stopped evolving new systems for economic production.The technology of the Internet, reputation systems, online communities, mobile devices -- these are all like those technologies...that made capitalism possible. These may make some new economic system possible. Very powerful ideas from the reigning guru on Technology and Social trends.

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