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BOOK REVIEW: WIKINOMICS

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Don Tapscott & Anthony D Williams (2006) Wikinomics. Atlantic Books.

Reviews of books are supposed to be objective, and so I will try to be so even though I just didn't like this book. No, that's not quite right. The book was OK, I just disagree - fairly intensely - with its core concept; mass collaboration for everything.

I'm alright with the theory, I just cannot see how it is supposed to work in any economy. By definition, any economics [wiki-or otherwise] require income and profits to be generated in order for that economy to exist.

I have particular problems with the authors' proposals for Intellectual Property Rights. Their notion seems to be that all content [of books, for example] should belong to everyone - with a total disregard for the efforts - and expenses - of those who produce that content. That the book itself carries the standard copyright notices and cost me real cash suggests they don't fully practice what they preach.

Furthermore, I find objectionable their constant business-model-bashing which continues throughout the book, as if making a profit is somehow unrighteous. For example, in the section on prosumers [a portmanteau of producer and consumer - a key element of the wikinomics concept] Sony is condemned for blocking hackers' upgrading of the company's Playstation. The authors say that this is 'little to do with warranties [as Sony claim] and much to do with its business model' pointing out that Sony make profits from the gaming accessories they sell to complement the games console, and so presumably they don't want hackers making up their own 'add-ons'. Right, so if Sony go 'wiki' and allow any-old-hacker to develop and sell peripherals how will Sony make the profit necessary to satisfy shareholders and invest in new product development? Answer; they take the price of the Playstation and multiply it by four. Yeah, users would be over the moon at that one. As would they workers at Sony who are paid to develop legitimate peripherals. As would the local shops, bars, car dealerships, cinemas etc etc etc where those people spend their wages. It's how an economy works.

In another section [on the 'business web', or b-web, as the authors call it - a catchphrase that obviously has failed to catch on?], collaboration is lauded with Apple used as an example. They cite that the iPod is manufactured by Foxconn, with chips from Motorola and it is filled with music created by artists. I'm sorry, this is not wikinomics - the collusion of many equal memebers in developing a product, this is standard business practice. Ever seen the Value Chain, Mssrs Tapscott and Williams? I live close to Nissan's European manufacturing plant - if you think Nissan make all the components of their cars think again. And Nike don't own a manufacturing plant. Hello, welcome to outsourcing. Sure, the authors address this, but it is by suggesting that we have moved to a service economy and that service is more suited to collaboration - but hey, not every product is a service.

Examples used are rather thin on the ground - and too often of rather obscure organizations and/or products. Time and again, Linux crops up as the poster-child for various aspects of Wikinomics, but I would suggest that the open-source computer operating system is something of a one-off, reflecting the environment in which it was developed and grew, rather than being a objective example of the concept. It is also the case that many of the examples used are not really commercial entities in their own right; ie the products are offered free to users [flickr, for example] or seek income from ads hosted on the website - hardly a new business model. Similarly, Second Life is purported as a perfect example of people [prosumers] contributing to develop the virtual community - but can this be considered a product in the same way as others? Not only is it intangible [ie no production costs] but it attracts that demographic which is keen to embrace and engage with the virtual community. Would the same users be as enthusiastic about 'prosuming' their car's braking system, their home's drainage system or even their kettle? I think not. Other examples in this section, [eg BMW's GPS navigation system] are not so much co-innovation as good practice in consumer research.

To be fair, Tapscott and Williams acknowledge and address the criticisms of the concept that I [and others] have raised and emphasize that the concept does come with 'new rules of engagement and tough challenges'. Sadly, for me, the criticisms are not answered comprehensively and the 'rules' and 'challenges' addressed only in a superficial way. Too often legitimate problems questions are turned - politician-like - into positives for their concept.

As a final comment, page 133 includes the line: 'everyone loves Wikipedia'. Err, no they don't. This statement just about sums up my perception of the book. Interesting, but one-sided and too much pie-in-the-sky.

As a footnote, I think there is a close association between this book and The Cult of the Amateur - see my review of that book.

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