Peer Production: A Modality of Collective Intelligence

New paper by Yochai Benkler, Aaron Shaw and Benjamin Mako Hill:  “Peer production is the most significant organizational innovation that has emerged from
Internet-mediated social practice and among the most a visible and important examples of collective intelligence. Following Benkler,  we define peer production as a form of open creation and sharing performed by groups online that: (1) sets and executes goals in a decentralized manner; (2) harnesses a diverse range of participant motivations, particularly non-monetary motivations; and (3) separates governance and management relations from exclusive forms of property and relational contracts (i.e., projects are governed as open commons or common property regimes and organizational governance utilizes combinations of participatory, meritocratic and charismatic, rather than proprietary or contractual, models). For early scholars of peer production, the phenomenon was both important and confounding for its ability to generate high quality work products in the absence of formal hierarchies and monetary incentives. However, as peer production has become increasingly established in society, the economy, and scholarship, merely describing the success of some peer production projects has become less useful. In recent years, a second wave of scholarship has emerged to challenge assumptions in earlier work; probe nuances glossed over by earlier framings of the phenomena; and identify the necessary dynamics, structures, and conditions for peer production success.
Peer production includes many of the largest and most important collaborative communities on the Internet….
Much of this academic interest in peer production stemmed from the fact that the phenomena resisted straightforward explanations in terms of extant theories of the organization and production of functional information goods like software or encyclopedias. Participants in peer production projects join and contribute valuable resources without the hierarchical bureaucracies or strong leadership structures common to state agencies or firms, and in the absence of clear financial incentives or rewards. As a result, foundationalresearch on peer production was focused on (1) documenting and explaining the organization and governance of peer production communities, (2) understanding the motivation of contributors to peer production, and (3) establishing and evaluating the quality of peer production’s outputs.
In the rest of this chapter, we describe the development of the academic literature on peer production in these three areas – organization, motivation, and quality.”