The Wealth of Networks

Summer is almost over (at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere), but there may still be time left for one last round of summer reading.

Harvard Professor and Internet Afficionado Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks: How social production transforms markets and freedom provides a fascinating look into how the internet may affect development – both “Big-D” and “little-d.” Benkler provides a remarkably in-depth explanation as to why online social productions such as Wikipedia, Youtube and Facebook have become possible, and how the economics of it all will (and already do) make sense. Chapters 1, 4, and 11, which (respectively) lay out the framework of his argument, drill down into the economics of peer production, and describe institutional fault-lines that are emerging, are particularly worth reading.

As Benkler points out, the new institutional architecture that is chosen to accommodate these emerging networks will have non-trivial affects. Not only will they transform economic systems, they will also have a bearing on how democratic, participatory, and free societies will become in both the developed and developing world.



For those who are interested but find themselves with less time to spare, The Economist recently published a special report to similar effect titled “Back to the Coffee House” (July 9, 2011). The caption says it all: “The internet is taking the news industry back to the conversational culture of the era before mass media.”