Michel believes that free agents are becoming the dominant form of economic activity in the post-dot com world. As a result, people and their networks are becoming increasingly important as individuals rely on each other for information and collaboration within a trusted relationship. The new social computing technologies have enabled peer to peer networks to grow rapidly, Facebook being a prime example. The value from these networks is created by the individual. Michel calls this the “wealth of networks”.
Michel argues that institutions, such as corporations and governments, have become less accountable to the public and trust in them has fallen significantly. Trust between peers has become the most important trust relationship. At the same time, a new generation of young, mobile and independent workers have emerged to find new meaning from the traditional work relationship between employer and employee. Combined, the individual is becoming more reliant on peer to peer networks in both work and social contexts, based on peer production, peer governance, and a common inclusionary network culture.
Michel also notes the importance of the “passionate user”, an individual with an intrinsic and positive motivation to do things for non-monetary reasons. As the threshold for voluntary particpation increases, aided by inexpensive social technologies, the peer to peer network increases, and the opportunity for creative innovation is enhanced. Michel gave the example of Linux that was started by volunteers, and the success of the open source movement. Innovation becomes social and flexible, the antithesis of traditional workplace heirarchies.
Michel posits that we are entering a fundamental shift in the economic landscape, moving to a peer to peer mode of production. After all, with knowledge and a computer, Michel says that individuals can now control the means of production.
The social network becomes the competitive advantage. Quoting Fernanda Ibarra: “The main source of value creation is shared knowledge and collective intelligence, not land, labour, or capital. It is that shift in the basis of value creation, what propelled virtual communities in the limelight as collective players with largely untapped potential for radical innovation”. The collective intelligence of the network, peer governance, and the democratisation of innovation will be the defining features of the peer to peer networked world.
I enjoyed the positive and enthusiastic vision of the future, especially the democratisation of production and the ability of individuals to choose their own destinies.
For me, the impact was twofold. Firstly, the importance of the virtual social network became clearer to me. Social computing is the lead instrument for many people today in connecting with other people who they may never actually meet in person. At the same time, new ways of using social networks do provide opportunities for later face-to-face interactions. Michel cited the example of CouchSurfing where people make available couch accommodation in their homes for visitors and tourists, people who they have an association with through networks despite never having physically met them. I guess it’s not really too far removed from word-of-mouth that was so prominant (and primitive in retrospect) when I was backpacking around Europe and Africa in the 1980’s looking for safe places to stay at low cost.
Secondly, the new economic model in which individuals are empowered in the labour market by their knowledge and their social networks is very interesting. I see how this is happening now with the high rate of labour mobility in the workforce but wonder if this is sustainable if economic conditions worsen and economies plunge into recession. Moreover, I wonder whether heirarchical organisational structures are really breaking down and whether the associated power relations inside those organisations are changing for the better. Certainly, autonomous networked individuals working collaboratively for the common good is an attractive proposition.
Over the coming weekend, I will conclude my overview of the KM Australia 2007 conference with some notes on some of the other presentations.