One week after TEDGlobal's conclusion, I pick up my summary with Day Three's highlights.
One of those highlights was Yochai Benkler. Benkler's been studying the sociology and economics of sharing, and the Internet has provided him with plenty of fertile ground. The reduction in cost of production of information to something approaching zero reverses a 150-year trend in industrial information technology (newspapers, radio, television). This has led to a radically-decentralized environment for information (due to reduced costs for computation), knowledge (storage) and culture (communication). Echoing Dan Pink, Benkler says that in our new world, creativity, intuition, experience are the non-fungible sources of value. Open-source development decentralizes the authority and capacity to create value using this tools, providing new opportunities for toolmakers to create revolutionary products like Firefox, Skype and Wikipedia. I now need to read Benkler's article, (PDF warning) "Sharing Nicely."
Speaking of which, Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's founder, spoke next. Wales told the story of creating this amazing knowledge storehouse. With a virtually all-volunteer staff, Wikipedia has developed 600,000 articles in English, and over 2 million articles in 100+ languages; only 1/3 of its hits are English language. Wales described the elegantly simple quality control process: (volunteers monitoring the "neutral point of view" policy; the "recent changes" and "watchlist" pages) for article submissions and updates. Governance is equally simple. But "simple" does not equal "easy," and the Wikipedia community is demonstrating the power of its guiding social methodology: consensus, democracy, aristocracy (reputational history is everything in a community like this), and monarchy (Jimmy as final arbiter). These principles clearly have enormous relevance for the kinds of social structures we'll use as the 21st century unfolds.
The very witty, entertaining Charles Leadbeater followed. Described in the program as, "one of Tony Blair's favourite thinkers," Leadbetter spoke about the role of users and consumers in collaborative creativity. "Who invented the mountain bike?," Leadbeater asked. Answer: Northern California enthusiasts, who'd tricked out their bikes (creating what they called, "clunkers") to accommodate their trail needs, thereby creating a $58 billion a year industry. This leads to a logical question: "how do we organize ourselves without being organized?" Modern collaborative creativity challenges the old model of product development conducted by special people, in special places, having special ideas delivered to passive users. Two-way interactivite collaboration allows users to be ahead of producers in developing the kinds of radical innovation at which established organizations (by necessity incremental because of a need to protect existing products) are poor. This invariably leads to serious organizational implications between those who work on "next," and those who are responsible for "now." Tell me about it! Parenthetically, Leadbetter points out that many of today's inventions are developed without clarity about their ultimate purpose. This challenges our current model for patents, in which a purpose must be declared. It also begs the question of surviving totally on volunteers for innovation. There are signs of "intelligent closed organization" (i.e., corporations) moving toward open collaboration with their customers. All in all, an excellent talk.
As was Clay Shirky's. Shirky began with a simple question: how do groups get anything done? For peak efficiency: put cooperation into your infrastructure. Take Flickr, for example. If one were to search Flickr's tags for photos of the annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade, one would find almost 3,400 submitted photos, including this one. Usually, organizations solve coordination problems via management, which necessitates overhead, exclusionary policies and the establishment of a professional class. But a cooperative infrastructure sheds institutional costs by replacing planning with coordination. By agreeing to tag all photos (or most photos, or an increasing number of photos) of this event as "MermaidParade," the Flickr community has utilized Flickr's built-in cooperative infrastructure to manage its content. And, in doing so, the community has encouraged the development of "mass amateurization," one of the major devlopments of our time. And so, a person submitting one photo of the parade can contribute at no incremental cost to the community than that of someone posting 100 photos. The system, then, enables contribution rather than being an obstacle to it. Of course, institutions are reacting badly to these developments (a Paris bus company is currently suing car poolers for lost revenue!), going through what Shirky cites as a Kubler-Ross-like process of denial, anger, bargaining and acceptance. But the genie is out of the bottle. It took 200 years for institutional society to go from the invention of the printing press to chaos; Shirky predicts it will take 50 years for the same journey on the Web. Superb presentation.
For my money, these speakers made up the conference's best session.