the institutional side of Web 2.0
February 27, 2008
A recent piece by Chris Wilson on Slate.com as well as some conversations with Yochai Benkler at the Berkman Center have gotten me thinking more seriously about the institutional side of web 2.0 and the organizational structure of social production.
It seems like there is a growing realization that the revolution in networked production has involved more than friendly collaboration among like minded amateurs. Anyone who frequents web 2.0 sites already knows this – wikipedia has its chaperones, amazon has its super-reviewers, digg has its preferred posters, etc. Furthermore, anyone with a background in organizational theory would expect this. There’s no reason to believe that pure peer-production could scale without costs or without the creation of disciplinary institutions of some kind. Nevertheless, Wilson’s piece reads like an expose – similar to this earlier Slate piece by Garth Risk Hallberg on Amazon Book Reviews. The rhetoric of openness and collaboration may yet come back to haunt these projects.
From a more analytical perspective, though, these pieces raise some really interesting questions. For example: how do the different kinds of regulatory systems work within each of these sites/communities? What systems scale most effectively? What mechanisms determine the emergence or success of one web 2.0 organizational structure over another?
I’m going to be doing some posting about these questions in relation to the mother-of-all-web 2.0-sites, Daily Kos in the near future (part of my work with Benkler). However, in the meantime, I wanted to take advantage of these articles to start thinking about how to design researchable questions about to these issues.
You might start with several different kinds of questions:
(a) What characterizes the institutional design of the community? What are the levers of control, manipulation, power, and consensus?
(b) How did the institutional design evolve over time?
(c) What problems does the institutional design solve? In particular, how does it elicit the collaboration of participants?
(d) Where are the contradictions and tensions most likely to emerge given the structure of the field elicited by the institutional design and the forms of power involved? Where does the institutional design break down?
All of these lend themselves to very different kinds of research strategies.