Wikinomics is a book about the new web, web 2.0, the social web where new things can happen. The book is not bad, but there are few interesting and inspiring examples of how the web is used today. It is more their thinking than their examples that make the book worth the time.
The fact that they must have looked for good examples makes the book depressing. A rough estimation after reading the book for actual web 2.0 applications:
- 90% of the examples are either trivial (mostly pretty harmless narcissistic stuff along the lines we are familiar with in Facebook) , stupid (how to print graphics on a potato chip [yes that is an example of wikinomics in the book, page 107]) or destructive (how to destroy and empty the planet on natural resources faster [It actually start with an example of how to extract more minirals out of a mine, page 7, how much further can you get from the needs in the 21st century]),
- 9% of the example relate to research
- 1% for initiative ways to use the net that might actually make a difference.
The fact that most of web 2.0 (so far) is either doing meaningless things or accelerating current unsustainable trends might not be surprising. The authors are however looking for something else. In the introduction they write:
“The movement to stop global warming is a good example of mass collaboration in action. We’re the early days of something unprecedented: Thanks to Web 2.0 the entire world is beginning to collaborate around a single idea for the first time ever – changing the weather. Climate change is quickly becoming a nonpartisan issue, and all citizens obviously have a stake in the outcome. So for the first time we have one global, multimedia, affordable, many-to-many communication system, and one issue on which there is growing consensus. Around the world there are hundreds, probably thousands, of collaborations occurring in which everyone from scientists to schoolchildren are mobilizing to do something about carbon emissions. The “Killer application” for mass collaboration may turn out to save the planet, literally.”
This sounds interesting and optimistic, or even naïve. Especially as the following is written a few pages later:
“This new participation [wikinomics] has reached a tipping point where new forms of mass collaboration are changing how goods and services are invented, produced, marketed and distributed on a global basis”.
As we need a transformative shift in order to ensure a resource efficient development that allow for the world’s poor to rise out of poverty without a war over natural resources and a climate catastrophe, we need to see changes in all of the above. The challenge is that we don’t need any change, we need a resource efficient, low carbon change. This is complex as the very basis of our infrastructure need to change, our economic system need to change, our legal system need to change, system solutions (with new collaborations) need to be implemented, etc. So far the wikinomics seem to have delivered more of the same, not any transformative change.
Maybe this complexity is why Anthony Williams is putting himself in the pessimist camp on his blog?
“I reluctantly put myself in the pessimist’s camp for now. While I think there will be many significant collaborations to stop climate change, I don’t see the equivalent of the human genome project emerging in this space. That being said, I am eager to see someone prove otherwise. It’s true that no issue has captivated the attention of a broad internal audience as much as climate change has in recent years. And, as noted by Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the United Nations, ‘For far too long, climate change has been seen as a problem of the future, one that only a limited range of ministries and institutions should manage. This must change now. Climate change requires broader engagement.’ Will the ‘killer application for mass collaboration’ turn out to be saving the planet? What do you think?”
For now I think that there is very little beside some climate research, that might come up with a few new ideas, that is really interesting and use web 2.0, but that can change.
Suzanne Pahlman and I have begun a project to explore the contribution of cutting edge IT solutions to a low carbon, resource efficient and equitable development and in this web 2.0 is included (together with things like cloud computing, petaflop computers, decentralized production, etc). In this we actually have a potential “killer application”, more about that later.
The examples in the book are not bad, but very boring. Actually surprisingly boring. I know of quite a few applications that are much more interesting than anything in the book. Maybe the reseach grant they got came from companies like P&G and IBM with little new in the field of web 2.0, but as they paid for the reseach they had to be included?