For anyone who hasn't been following the blog these past few months, I've been posting excerpts of the book in order to elicit critical comments, or supplementary material I might have overlooked. These will be published as an appendix in the hardcover version of Crowdsourcing, and may even make it into the margins of later editions. Full credit given, naturally, to the commenter. Here is the beginning of Chapter 5:
If the means of production and distribution are now within the grasp of the individual, if the line between producers and consumers is blurring, where does that leave the “firm,” the organizational structure that has governed how people make and deliver goods and services. What constitutes an “employee” or a “manager” or “president” in a crowdsourcing environment? Of course, corporations aren’t candidates for the endangered species list quite yet. But it’s useful to recall that the firm, that most conspicuous icon of the industrial era, is hardly immutable, and even of fairly recent vintage.
We’re not accustomed to thinking of communities in economic terms. But this wasn’t always the case. Originally humans gathered into communities for reasons of survival. Larger groups made for better hunting and provided greater security against rivals. The industrial revolution changed all that. The company organized labor into a paid workforce, and the community became the social space in which we rested from work—a respite from economic production and competition, engaging instead in religious, philanthropic or purely social activities. Now the Internet has started to turn this paradigm on its head. The company clearly offers advantages when productivity is weighed by the pound—You’ll always need a factory to produce steel. But in the realm of information production, the community is beginning to rival the corporation for primacy.
Four developments created a fertile ground in which crowdsourcing could emerge. The rise of an amateur class was accompanied by the emergence of a mode of production—open source software—that provided inspiration and practical direction. The proliferation of the Internet and cheap tools gave consumers a power once restricted to companies endowed with vast capital resources. But it was the evolution of online communities—with their ability to efficiently organize people into economically productive units—that transformed the first three phenomena into an irrevocable force.