The Sharing Economy

Thu, 2005-09-15 11:25.

Interview with Yale law professor Yochai Benkler

Q: How did you conceive the notion of peer production from such seemingly disparate activities?

A: I had been looking at commons-based behaviors in unlicensed radio spectrum and in intellectual property, and their important role in innovation. I was uncomfortable with the notion that this was purely a phenomenon of software or musicians. That doesn't explain Wikipedia. That doesn't really explain Slashdot [the peer-written and -reviewed tech news site]. That doesn't explain why Google was so phenomenally successful.

Q: What qualities do those things have in common?

A: [They show that] the economic role of social behavior is increasing. It used to be that if you said, "Here, this is interesting, why don't you read this?" it was primarily social. When you take the exact same behavior and plug it into Google's Page Rank algorithm, you actually get a discrete economic output that increases welfare in the economy overall -- even though you continue to have a certain social interaction there as well.

Q: Why is peer production happening now, and what technologies are enabling it?

A: With the steam engine, the archetype of the Industrial Revolution, we moved to industries where the physical capital was relatively concentrated. You had to have financial capital in order to enable effective collaboration between individuals.
What we're seeing now is cheap processors, which put computation on our desktops and in our laps, cheap storage, and ubiquitous communications. It's this combination of a low-cost personal computer and the Internet...that allows this aggregation of behavior. Things that would normally just dissipate in the air as social gestures come to have some persistence as economic products. This departs radically from everything we've seen since the Industrial Revolution.

Full interview