July 14, 2009

Wkinomics: 3 Years Later

I finally got a round to reading Wikinomics. It was a best seller for months and widely discussed, and I thought it would be a valuable read. But the book offered little in the way of new ideas, and many of the themes discussed throughout seemed to be rehashed blog posts and books I read months or years before the book was published. Themes of The World is Flat abound, but why not read the original. Emergence is also discussed, ditto. Although published after Wikinomics, Clay Shirky's excellent Here Comes Everybody carries many of the same themes as Wikinomics, but does it better and more succinctly.

In a way the book doesn't have time on its side. Published originally in 2006, many of its themes were still emerging (and still are). I found the supporting evidence shaky, like the use of business ideas that didn't prove out, and have since failed. I even found some inaccuracies like the insinuation that it wasn't possible to play songs on an iPod that were purchased outside of iTunes as an example of DRM (any store selling the mp3 format would work). Given that I read the 2008 reissue, I though some of these issues could have been remedied.

I normally wouldn't critique a book about something like this but as a reader I felt overwhelmed with superlatives ("dramatically," "very") and made up buzzwords. The authors nearly recognize it themselves by calling out the hyperbole on page 12. According to Google Book Search there are 11 instances of "we call" followed by some made up word or phrase. "We call it" ....
  • "wiki workplace"
  • "precompetitive knowledge commons"
  • "platforms for participation"
  • "ideagoras"
  • "emergent or serendipitous innovation"
  • "collaboration economy"
  • "developer ecosystems"
  • "wiki workplace"
  • "designing for prosumption"
  • "wikinomics"
I hate sounding so down on a book that discusses many of the themes I strongly support. I think highly of the co-author Don Tapscott. I saw him speak in support of the book but got more out of his presentation than the book itself (the story of Goldcorp is illuminating). And there are bright spots, especially for those outside the web industry. Some of my most favorite parts of the book were those that focused on how collaborative models are changing offline businesses, and there were some parts of the book that made me think of new approaches to opportunities at work. There are great stories about Legos, P&G and Boeing in describing how they are using distributed workforces and are opening up their businesses.

I think the book's success can be partly attributed to great timing and marketing: "Wiki-" a book that came out as Wikipedia was picking up steam, and "-nomics," to answer a question on many non-techies' minds, "why?" In a way I felt fooled, because there was little to no discussion around the economics of wikis, or how collaboration was was impacting economies at the micro or macro scale. I have The Wealth of Networks sitting on my bookshelf, and I think it will do a much better job of answering these types of questions.

There are other books that excel in describing the phenomenon of Web 2.0, networked media, collaborative workforces, or whatever you want to call it. Here Comes Everybody is the best IMO, including the non-web stuff. And if you want a book that gets to the heart of the web, Cluetrain is where to start. I just started reading the 10th anniversary edition (amazing after picking it up 10 years later how much the book described the framework of how the web works at its peak, and yet how far there is to go) More on that in a future post. ;-)