by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams (Portfolio, a member of the Penguin group, 2006)
2006 was the year I first created my online presence. Before 2006, I basically used only email and a word processing program. Then I discovered TESOL’s Electronic Village Online and participated in the session “Becoming a Webhead” with Dafne Gonzalez and Teresa Almeida d’Eça. It changed my life! That was where I learned how to blog, how to use a wiki, and got over my fear of signing up for accounts for all kinds of free online stuff, which led to social media, podcasting, glogs, and lots more. If you google me now, you find quite a lot, whereas before 2006, I doubt you would have found anything. It was a pivotal year for me.
So that was the year Tapscott and Williams published Wikinomics. It has been on my to-read list for years, but when I finally got around to reading it, I realized that a book like this one is out of date as soon as it’s published (or maybe even before it’s published), let alone eight years later. I wondered whether the predictions the authors made then had come true or not; mostly, I didn’t know. They made a lot of confident predictions about how Web 2.0 would transform the way business is done, e.g.: “Peer production will continue to grow in importance because key enabling conditions are present and growing.” “Companies that don’t source a growing proportion of new product and service ideas from outside their walls will find themselves unable to sustain the level of growth, agility, responsiveness, global savvy, or creativity they require to compete in today’s environment.” “Companies that embed [openness, peering, sharing, and acting globally] in their workplaces will create competitive organizations that leverage internal and external capabilities more effectively than their traditional counterparts.” And so on. But they failed to predict the dark side: hacking, spamming, phishing, identity theft, governmental surveillance and blocking of websites. It seems to me that these activities have the potential to bring down the web as we know it. Already, countries like China and Saudi Arabia have created their own internets to shield their citizenry from the information available on our Internet; and lately I have been getting more and more nervous about online banking and shopping due to the increasingly sophisticated hacking of governmental, commercial, and financial websites. I don’t think Tapscott and Williams gave a thought to these things back in 2006. At least, there is no mention of them in Wikinomics.
The authors set up a website for readers to provide their input; the original site, http://www.wikinomics.com, has evolved into http://www.macrowikinomics.com/. I haven’t explored it yet, but presumably, they have updated (or are updating) the book with the participation of many others (the whole idea, after all, is mass collaboration).
The question remains whether it is really worth reading a book about cutting-edge technology eight years after it was written. Probably not. As I read, I kept wondering, then what happened? How did it turn out? Were they correct? Were they wrong? What would they say about this now? And also: if corporations use more ideas from people outside their walls, they can downsize. What’s going to happen to all those people who lose their jobs? How will the “external” participants pay for health insurance (or rent, mortgages, kids’ education, grocery bills, for that matter) if they are not employed in traditional jobs? Knowing what I know now about the redistribution of wealth between “the one percent” and “the ninety-nine percent”, I wonder if things are so rosy after all. I don’t presume to blame this imbalance of wealth and power on mass collaboration. But something has happened which transferred American wealth from the majority to a very tiny minority. Just a thought.