Reading Wikinomics


A review of the book by Don Tapscott & Anthony D. Williams

When it came out, in 2006, Wikinomics was a timely book. Wired picked ‘YOU’ to be the ‘person of the year’; Twitter launched and Facebook (serving only students up to then) opened to the general public. The web was on a turning point and early adopters and technology watchers were predicting a social media revolution. Just then Wikinomics argued that ‘massive on-line collaboration’ changed business radically and the authors promised to give a glimpse on the ‘new business rules’ that where emerging. No wonder it became a best-seller. But on the web 2006 is ages ago. So is Wikinomics still worth reading today, or has it lost most of its glory?

I guess it depends on whether you have been watching the web lately and whether you know Chesbrough’s books on Open Innovation, which I discussed in three earlier blog posts (1,2,3). Tapscott and Williams’ book has a broader scope than Chesbrough’s but open innovation is their most concrete core message, and many of their examples, are the same as Chesbrough’s. The bottom line: companies that want to be ahead of their competitors need to incorporate ideas from outside into their innovation process and they need to share (or rent) their own IP to the world. To be successful you need a special blend of ‘openness’ and ‘protection’, which is difficult to find and changes constantly, but the right blend is  much more on the open side than most traditional companies think. But, then again, if you want to learn about open innovation, I recommend reading some Chesbrough, not Wikinomics.

You might pick Wikinomics over open innovation, because it places these ideas in a broader context.  Tapscott and Williams devote much attention to the characteristics of the ‘net-generation’ (Tapscott also wrote “Growing Up Digital”), open source software and its adoption by mainstream business, prosumers, globalization and remix culture (Including the idea’s of creative commons founder Lawrence Lessig) . This way, they frame open innovation as just one among many phenomena which all point to a powerful cultural undercurrent which will change business as a whole and web based business in particular. I must credit Tapscott and Williams for their trendwatching skills, but unfortunately, it is this broader thesis where I feel that time is not on the side of the book. In 2006, perhaps, prosumers and remix-culture where bright stars of youth culture – pointing to fundamental change, but nowadays they seem stale and rather unrelated examples. You Tube is still a massive and vibrant community, but maybe it is a playgarten with ‘remix’ as dominant game and not a sign of massive cultural change. Facebook is huge, but its status as change agent is disputed. So are: being open, peering, sharing and acting globally the new business rules that lead to success?  Tapscott and Williams, build up a fairly convincing case, even today, but it used to be a lot more appealing.


3 Responses to “Reading Wikinomics”

  1. 1 Evaluating the NetGen Argument « @koenvanturnhout MacroBlog
  2. 2 Reading Lev Manovich’ “The Language of New Media” « @koenvanturnhout MacroBlog
  3. 3 Reading Dhiraj Murthy’s Twitter: Social Communication in the Twitter Age « @koenvanturnhout MacroBlog

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