Book Review: Wikinomics

Unfair as it is, to review a book like this and its predictions a few years after it is written, I do believe that the exercise does yield useful insights. Wikinomics by Don Tapscott, et al. is a well written and ambitious endeavor  that attempts to cover a lot of ground in recent trends.

They push the envelope in promoting a collaborative economics or Wikinomics. Wikinomics   goes beyond Web 2.0 and Open Source to paint a picture of an Utopia created by cooperation and trust among large corporations, governments and individuals.

The authors propose four principles for Wikinomics, openess, peering, sharing and global action. This new economy, they claim is born, from a perfect storm caused by the rise of Web 2.0, the coming of age of the Net generation and the breaking down of corporate borders on a large scale.

Peer production that evolved from software development, more precisely from Linux and Apache development and then in the making and maintaining of Wikipdia has now been embraced by global heavyweights like IBM. While the creators of Linux and Apache,  Torvald and Behlendorf did not directly benefit from their creations, IBM and all the numerous companies that embraced the Apache server stood to reap rewards, claim the authors.

Behlendorf, having made a name with Apache, went on to make CollabNet, a succesful company. Reading this part, I personally felt that the person or entity who comes up with an idea or product, in the Wikinomic environment must only look for a branding opportunity and cannot expect huge monetary rewards for their creation.

Wikinomics, the authors claim, creates a marketplace for finding solutions to needs and for finding needs for existing solutions. This thought is in fact prophetic. The XBMC media center was a solution for streaming media to the XBox (I wrote a detail article on this a few days ago.). XBMC and its new popular offspring, Boxee, with their numerous add-ons, have begun the process of proliferation of TV with the Internet.

Wikinomics will create prosumers, claim the authors. BMW and Lego Mindstorms are touted as examples of this trend. User innovation is one of the big promises of Web 2.0 and peering. While there has been some evidence of companies prospering from user innovation, I cannot believe that it is an approach that all corporations must consider.

The authors also propose a modern day Alexandria where one has access to all knowledge relevant to her or her chosen field. We are not there yet. (Web 3.0 will make this happen, with all the hype about contextual information that one may access, say the futurists today.)

The book proposes the rise of platforms as another Wikinomic side effect. Platforms according to Wikinomics, include Mashups and Open Apis.Interestingly the authors claim that Amazon is spearheading this trend with its search. This was not to be. Amazon's A9, Amazon's customized search,  today is History. There is no existing platform today, that can yet be touted as a roaring success.

Another effect of Wikinomics is global collaboration in manufacturing. Boeing and BMW are  examples of this type global plant floor, where suppliers, customers and all other stakeholders, play a significant role in the design of products. As the authors caution, the balancing act of guarding one's IP with the spirit of openness is a risky proposition that must be approached with caution.

The authors also speak of openness and sharing of information and ideas within the walls of a corporation.  Best Buy is one success story of this kind of 'Wiki Workplace' . The authors describe how, then CEO Brad Anderson, fostered innovation right from the bottom, by creating an intra-corporate social network where employees, irrespective of rank within the company can share ideas.

Interestingly, the latest Business week has an article singing the praises of Best Buy. The reasons for the company's success according to Business week are CEO Brian Dunn's efforts in fostering Best Buy teams that work with manufacturers like HP and Toshiba in  product   development and design, creating a 'digital playground' where customers can test out products and in experimenting in the selling of new products like electric vehicles and newer electronic products.

Best Buy attributes a lot of its success to its use of social media. Indeed, this is another Wikinomics prophecy that has turned out to be true. All in all, Wikinomics has proved to stand the test of time(about two years) in many of its predictions. This book is still a good addition to your bookshelf

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