- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Profile Books; Main edition (12 Feb. 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1861978375
- ISBN-13: 978-1861978370
- Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.3 x 19.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 541,023 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
We-Think: Mass innovation, not mass production Paperback – 12 Feb 2009
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I was gripped. The book's theme is as big and bold as it gets ... Leadbeater's book should be compulsory reading for all who seek to understand the driving force of this century (Management Today)
Likely to be the most controversial book about the internet to be published this year ... I urge you to read it (Andrew Keen The Independent)
a riveting guide to a new world in which a whole series of core assumptions are being overturned by innovations on the web (Mathew D’Ancona The Spectator)
Expertly fusing philosophy and observation, Leadbeater depicts a world enriched by the creative and innovative possibilities of the internet and a more open, egalitarian and democratic society. (Rory Tevlin Irish Times)
The man The Spectator calls 'the new wizard of the web' explores the ways in which mass collaboration is dramatically reshaping our approach to work, play and communication.See all Product description
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Underlying it though is an assumption which features on the book’s cover: “The generation growing up with the web will not be content to remain spectators. They want to be players.” The extent to which this is true matters in particular for those seeking to use the internet for politics, for in the political arena online collaborative generation of content is relatively rare. Is this because those in politics just don’t get user-generated content, Web 2.0 and the whole modern way of doing things? Or is it because they understand the limitations of such approaches – and that only very few people want to stop being a spectator?
To Leadbeater’s credit, he himself provides evidence which undermines the breathless excitement of the book cover. For example, as of January 2006 less than 50,000 people worldwide had made even just five or more edits to Wikipedia. That is a tiny proportion of Wikipedia’s visitors, with the vast majority happy to remain as spectators, consuming the work of others. It’s a large enough number to provide an impressive collection of information – but that is far from saying we’re all moving away from being spectators.
This asymmetry appears again and again in his book. Another example: he received around 200 emails in response to his online drafts during the writing of the book. That’s a large enough number to add significantly to the quality of the final version, but is still a tiny number of the total readers a best selling author like himself can get to. Moreover, in this and other cases, it is far from clear that we could all cope with a scaling up of collaboration on a scale sufficient to make the number of collaborators more than a tiny proportion of the audience. 200 emails would be great, 2,000 challenging and 200,000 a nightmare.
What is the lesson from this for politics? It is that an openness to user-generated content, collaboration and making producing content more like a conversation is really about making what you produce better; it isn’t about involving the public on a significant scale in a paradigm-shifting manner.
Think back to Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign for example. It certainly featured massive successful use of the internet, but that was in aid of getting out his chosen message, his chosen policies and to his chosen strategy. They may have been better informed and selected due to dialogue and feedback, but policies, messages and strategy were not written collaboratively, wiki-style.
Political use of such approaches also has another hurdle: politics has a strong adversarial streak. Voting, after all, is about choosing who to vote for – and who not to vote for. That means political online collaboration and the like is in practice far more vulnerable to online vandalism, negative comments, votes to bury content and so on than most other areas of discussion. There are tools which make handling this problem easier, but the existence of this underlying dynamic is one reason why politics is, to a degree, different.
Involving the public more in politics would certainly be a good thing; it’s just the Web 2.0 world of collaborative and user-generated content isn’t a primary means to do so. Wikipedia gives huge power over the public’s consumption of information to 50,000 people. That may be better than it being only in the hands of a small number of publishers, but it is still a fundamentally elitist structure.
A bigger elite people can opt to join is a nicer, cuddlier one, but still an elite. Part of the reason for that is that, as Leadbetter points out, “communities that share and develop ideas usually start around someone who donates their knowledge.” In other words, the usually start around someone who has something that others do not – and that core role and power is not a position anyone has been elected to. Hence my use of the word ‘elite’.
We see this with open source software projects, where the most successful almost always have a small elite core of people making key decisions and driving the project forward. Linux is many good things, but it is not a democratically created or formed piece of software. Linus Torvalds really has the role of benevolent dictator. And that doesn’t make him or the Linux process a great role-model for how our politics should operate.
This book is one step above rubbish. It repeats age old examples of well known successes, and tries to convince the reader that it has been rebadged and improved. And by rebadging an old idea, means you can call everything We Think.
So, my honest opinion is that you should not pay for this book. Sure, if a friend gives you a copy, then read it.. You can then laugh at them for paying for it (speaking from experience!)
The second point which Charlie misses (or, to be fair, probably choose not to mention since I believe he is is fully aware of the issue) is the inability of the legal system to protect inventions and technologies developed through collaboration. Brainstorming solutions to problems is overrated - it is easy to brainstorm but it is hard to execute the ideas that have come from the brainstorm. "We-Think" collaboration suggests a mechanism to do just that - but the business models to protect the collaborative effort do not yet exist. (I have some possible solutions but a review of this book is not the place to discuss them.)
All in all a fascinating and thought provoking read - hence the five stars.
On the other hand, there is a thriving 'cottage industry' of add-on development which does involve considerable collaboration, but that's not the argument he makes.
On the whole though, a strong book that would make a good introduction to anyone wondering what all this wiki/collaboration stuff was about and why it mattered.
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