The Power Of Us is a nice Business Week article about how companies can tap into their user communities. The punchline is: no matter how big your company is, there are always more people outside of it than inside of it. If you can get all those outside people to help you out, even a little bit, some amazing things can happen. At the same time, it’s a little unnerving giving the Great Unwashed the keys to your house. Is Open Source a friend or a threat? If you can’t find some way to befriend it, you’re in for some real trouble. John Q. Public is a jerk, but he’s rich, and he’s got a few really good ideas. As the irrepressible Jeff Bezos says, “You invite the community in, and you get all this help.” Here’s an extended quote from the article. I like the image of using social graces to turn windmills.
Yochai Benkler, a Yale Law School professor who studies the economics of networks, thinks such online cooperation is spurring a new mode of production beyond the two classic pillars of economics, the firm and the market. “Peer production,” as he calls work such as open-source software, file-sharing, and Amazon.com Inc.’s millions of customer product reviews, creates value with neither conventional corporate oversight nor market incentives such as payment. “The economic role of social behavior is increasing,” he says. “Things that would normally just dissipate in the air as social gestures become economic products.”