Business - Written by Anthony D. Williams on Wednesday, January 16, 2008 13:33 - 1 Comment
A dissertation on mass collaboration
It’s the first I’ve heard of a dissertation being written on mass collaboration, although I suspect there are many more out there. I have yet to read it in full, although I did note that our friend Howard Rheingold is one of the examiners. The author, Mark Elliot, points out that while Don and I were the first to write about mass collaboration, our book wouldn’t make it through a PhD examination process due to it’s lack of analytical rigor (see below)! Fair enough, but that’s why we love it when others, especially academics, build on our work.
Wikinomics: How mass collaboration changes everything (Tapscott & Williams 2006) is the first published work to directly address mass collaboration, an often cited example of Web 2.0 and the guiding topic of this thesis. While generally geared towards providing ‘examples of how people and organizations are harnessing these principles to drive innovation in their workplaces, communities, and industries’ (2006:20), Tapscott and Williams aim to identify new trends and methods of peer production labelling the majority of them as mass collaborative. Tapscott and Williams claim that mass collaboration is associated with ‘deep changes in the structure and modus operandi of the corporation and our economy, based on new competitive principles such as openness, peering, sharing, and acting globally’ (2006:4). They also suggest that the ‘new promise of collaboration is that with peer production we will harness human skill, ingenuity, and intelligence more efficiently and effectively than anything we have witnessed previously’ (2006:18).
However, Tapscott and Williams fail to provide an adequate definition or criteria for discerning collaboration from other collective activities such as cooperation and coordination. This has the effect of lowering the term to that of a buzzword and stripping it of analytical value. In fact, in most cases where authors use the term ‘collaboration’, it could be exchanged with ‘cooperation’ to little semantic, effect leaving the discerning reader to wonder why collaboration was used at all. This is not to suggest that there is no difference between the terms, on the contrary, it is precisely the distinctions which forms a key conceptual foundation for this thesis. Rather, in the distinguishing of collaboration from cooperation and coordination, it becomes possible to discern important differences in a range of the collective activities discussed by Tapscott and Williams and others.
Overall, Tapscott and Williams’ analysis is typical of inquiries into novel Internet developments in that it deals with the activity in a manner and tone geared towards commercial application. While this is a valid aspect to investigate and one which certainly enhances our understanding of the phenomenon, it generally does not engage the subject deeply enough to provide rigorous conceptual frameworks into the underlying nature, architecture and dynamics of the activity. However, their work does provide valuable examples and anecdotal insights useful in the support and theorising of such frameworks.
Thanks Mark for letting me know about this and congratulations on your graduation! Here’s a general call to other PhD students working on similar themes to let me know about your research.
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