This is a lengthy rant, cross-posted on M2M (comment there), where I suggest that Cornucopia production can be realized not just through cooperation in developing a resource, but building upon success in governing each other as peers while in the act.
What do Napster and Wikipedia have in common? Both had or have rapid growth with value created by users. But what's fascinating is how this value was generated from personal and social incentives.
Dan Bricklin's classic 2000 essay (yes, anything written in 2000 that stands the test of time to 2004 can be deemed a classic), Cornucopia of the Commons, provided a framework with three ways of building a valuable database: Organized Manual (e.g. Yahoo), Organized Mechanical (e.g. Altavista) and Volunteer Manual (e.g. Slashdot)
Napster provided incentives for users to contribute organized content and a simplified UI where creating the copy in the shared music directory can be a natural by-product of their normal working with the songs. Bricklin defined this as a Cornucopia of the Commons, where Use brings overflowing abundance.
This is in contrast to Garrett Hardin's 1968 classic The Tragedy of the Commons:
Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit -- in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.
Back in 2000, around when Ev wrote his 2000th post, he pointed out: There should be a payoff to the user for entering accurate information. Specifically he noted that HotorNot's ratings didn't provide any incentive for accurate photo data.
By now you can probably guess that tagging is a Volunteer Manual construct that leverages Commons-Based Peer Production with incentives for accurate information. Creating bad labels hurts your own organization and lessens your group benefit when you want to pivot on the global view of the tag. What Flickr demonstrates is not only adoption growth, but the creation of a database that scales socially.
Orders of Cooperation
This week Paul Hartzog provided a lecture on Creating Institutions for Collective Action for Howard Rheingold's Towards a Literacy of Cooperation class at Stanford. Paul distinguished between two orders of dilemmas in cooperation:
First order dilemmas: how do we the users appropriately manage the resource?
Second order dilemmas: if I have to cooperate with you, how do I manage you?
Paul suggested that managing the commons was a function of rules, norms and strategies to address common problems identified by Elinor Ostrom: "coping with free-riding, solving commitment problems, arranging for the supply of new institutions, and monitoring individual compliance with sets of rules." He highlighted Elinor Ostrom's findings that groups that are able to organize and govern their behavior successfully are marked by the following design principles:
1. Group boundaries are clearly defined.
2. Rules governing the use of collective goods are well matched to local needs and conditions.
3. Most individuals affected by these rules can participate in modifying the rules.
4. The rights of community members to devise their own rules is respected by external authorities.
5. A system for monitoring member's behavior exists; the community members themselves undertake this monitoring.
6. A graduated system of sanctions is used.
7. Community members have access to low-cost conflict resolution mechanisms.
8. For CPRs (Common Pool Resources) that are parts of larger systems: appropriation, provision, monitoring, enforcement, conflict resolution, and governance activities are organized in multiple layers of nested enterprises.
Cornucopia of the Commons provides an example of how Napster managed the first order with simple rules that led value to accrete to the database. But Napster wasn't Social Software and did not have to address the second order. Is there a Cornucopia phenomenon that relates not to a resource, but between people?
I would suggest yes, that value accretes to social fabric as much as an information resource. When groups achieve something together, there is a natural inclination to cooperate further. In Political Science, this pattern is found in Neo-functionalism:
One theory of political integration, a study of how groups converge and new organizational forms emerge, is neofunctionalism. It suggests that all political integration begins with technocrats working together on non-political issues. As technocrats work with each other and achieve successful cooperation, the technocrats desire higher-order cooperation. Functional spillover occurs from technocratic to economic to political and even security domains.
Neofunctionalism can be used to describe the political unification of Europe. It begins with the Marshall Plan, with technocrats from different nations working together to distribute aid and rebuild. This cooperation and dense network of international relationships led to the formation of the economic structures such as the European Monetary Union to the European Union to the Euro. Functional spillover occurred into inter-governmental EU political structures. If NATO did not expand its alliance for ascension of Eastern European nations the same would have occurred for defense.
While Neo-functionalism does not account for all the factors that led to the creation of the EU, it provides a pattern of accretive cooperation at significant scale within institutional constructs. When I asked Paul about this in class, he pointed out a fascinating example on the rise. China's adoption of open source is a marked departure from totalitarian organization (Organized Manual) -- will functional spillover occur from open source to civic space?
Cornucopia of Cooperation
This is a very big question. But open source organization is often marked by benevolent dictators. While the right to fork counters abuses in power and encourages flatter organization and emergent leadership -- the complexity of developing software demands hierarchy at certain scales. Paul suggested, as others have, that explicit reputation could enable open source projects to scale as heterarchy rather than heirarchy.
Most open source projects, the ones you rarely hear about, have a flat structures without benevolent dictators. Cooperation at scales below is not only easier, but an inherent value of the small:
In the 1950s, an economist, Mancur L. Olson, found that small groups are more likely to exhibit voluntary cooperation in these experimental games than larger groups, and that cooperative behaviors increase when the games are repeated over and over with the same groups and when communication is permitted among the participants.
Its worth noting that the risk of fork is greater at small groups (of course, there is less to fork over). But as they scale beyond 12 to 150 and more, the coordination risks increase substantially, especially in software production which is marked by a high level of interdependency between contributions.
Writing code is an act of vertical information assembly (e.g. Apache), marked by the dependencies between contributions made by team members. By contrast, production of content (e.g. Wikipedia) is an act of horizontal information assembly without dependencies. This perhaps explains the heterarchical governance of Wikipedia that continues to function at significant scale. Perhaps explicit reputation could aid decentralization at scale for open source projects and address coordination risks. But beyond Slashdot, making reputation explicit in the open source community may do more harm than good for factors of production.
Any good leader knows that success is an opportunity to build upon. Volunteer Manual demonstrates a model of production where a resource of value with the right interface naturally accretes greater value. Peer Production can be applied to creating a resource with additional social incentives, as in the case of tagging.
But something altogether more powerful happens when you leverage both first and second order effects. In Wikipedia, users govern each other through shared control and produce as peers. Tagging in its present form is only additive, although nofollow/anti-links/vote links are harbingers of what's to come. With blogging itself, users govern each other with their words, silence and the act of not linking. Not only do wikis accrete value to the resource in first order cornucopia -- but strangers trust one another with social spillover for a second order cornucopia.