Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything

Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams is a book about large communities collaborating on projects which evolve and adapt with time. The strange part is that Wikinomics is a book written by two people, not a community, and it is already woefully out of date. The authors make some confusing references to 2010, due to a recent, half-hearted attempt at a revision. But the majority of the book was written in 2006 and it shows. Badly.

They talk a lot about MySpace and make no reference to the financial crisis or smart phones. And, at one point, the authors discuss the possibility that one day Apple might make a portable, pocket computer. What, like the iPhone?

I can’t blame the authors for not knowing the future (although I can blame them for the sloppy revision). But, I couldn’t help thinking, if this book were a wiki, someone would have updated it long ago. I think the problem for me is that writing a book about wikis and mass-collaboration just seems contradictory, like having a conversation about Twitter through telegraph.

I decided to put the irony behind me and just enjoy the book on its own merits. But I found myself distracted again. This book uses more jargon than a bad comp lit seminar. I couldn’t help cringing at made-up words like prosumers, b-webs and ideagoras. I just wish the authors would forget trying to coin hip-sounding lingo and stick to the point.

They could use a lesson in brevity, too. Like several other business books I have read, the authors have a couple really good points, but they hammer them over our heads until we’re numb. In a book that is in large part about efficiency, they sure waste a lot of space, presumably just so the book is thick enough to look good on a shelf.

Nonetheless, I found the main thesis compelling.  The authors make a forceful case that mass-collaboration can produce results faster and more efficiently than traditional methods. The authors encourage companies to take an open approach to innovation and, basically, put the public to work for them.

In other words, this book describes the crowdsourcing phenomenon before the term was even coined–although I bet the authors wish they had coined it!

Perhaps most worthwhile are the well-explained examples of how businesses have used mass collaboration and open sourcing to their benefit. I particularly like how they took examples from the tech world and elsewhere. I enjoyed reading about the enormous success of a gold mining company that made all of its geological data public and held a contest imploring others to help them find new gold. On the tech side, I found the discussion of web APIs informative and it still seemed timely in 2011.

While they make a convincing case for companies to open source, the authors would have done well to consider the possible problems this can cause. An open approach may have helped Google, Procter & Gamble and IBM, but even these companies must defend their intellectual property. The authors do not clearly articulate when to share and when to protect innovations.

Also, I also would have liked to have read more discussion on how mass-collaboration can be used outside the business world, for example, on art projects.

All in all, I would recommend this book, but mostly for the interesting examples. They convincingly illustrate how mass-collaboration can be used effectively and how it can be a profitable business decision. Many CEOs would do well to take this advice, but they should take it with a grain of salt. And maybe an aspirin–they’re going to need it after being pounded over the head with the same information over and over again.


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