We explain what peer production is, its purpose and importance. In addition, we explore its main characteristics, advantages and disadvantages and more.
What is peer production?
Peer production is a way of producing and accessing knowledge through individual and decentralized tasks and cooperative work forming a shared network.
Peer production, also called "mass collaboration", is implemented through worldwide media and global channels that are independent of traditional markets and business strategies.
For example: free and open-source software like web browser Mozilla Firefox uses peer production, as community members can voluntarily contribute new code to the software, which is shared and open to all users. This differs from closed-source software, which requires a license for use, and where only its authors own the source code to modify it, as is the case with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser.
Peer production should not be confused with the term "teamwork", which is the synergy between different tasks performed by a coordinated group of people, usually guided by a leader or manager, to achieve a particular objective.
- See also: Manufacturing industry
Purpose of peer production
The purpose of peer production is to voluntarily help through the collaborative work of community members to share information and access knowledge.
The outcome is common good, which means it does not benefit a single individual, group or organization, but humanity at large.
Importance of peer production
Peer production benefits humanity at large, and not just a single individual. It promotes information production innovation and economic freedom.
Networked information initiatives depend on continuous decentralized individual actions, rather than on the traditional market economy. They can become universal and therefore, compete with and surpass the industrial information economy.
The development of peer production at a global level is made possible by the internet: a tool for worldwide interconnection and large-scale data exchange.
Characteristics of peer production
The main characteristics of peer production are:
- By being decentralized, it allows individuals or small groups to contribute their voluntary work to benefit society and network communities worldwide.
- The information produced and disseminated becomes a public good that is part of a global network.
- It promotes common good by allowing access to and use of information or data.
- Companies can make use of peer production data collection, gaining advantages for their business.
Differences with teamwork
The main differences between teamwork and peer production are:
- Teamwork. It consists of a small group of people working in a centralized and hierarchical structure, with managers and leaders sharing responsibility over the achievement of a specific objective.
- Peer production. It consists of individuals who contribute their voluntary work to optimize the knowledge in the cloud or on the internet worldwide. It does not require a hierarchy system as everyone can contribute voluntarily, according to their interests and capabilities.
Advantages and disadvantages of peer production
Peer production is an unprecedented experience in human history which, due to technological innovation, brings advantages to life in today's societies. On the other hand, it also presents some disadvantages.
Main advantages of peer production
- Unlimited capacity for innovation. While certain future inventions can be anticipated, technological advances generate unimaginable impacts which can evolve at an ever-accelerating rate.
- It is one of the most significant advances in history, after the Second Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. Decentralization allows for collaboration and universal access to information for all people on the planet.
- It requires basic economic resources for production and development, such as computers, devices, communication systems, and digital storage, among others, which have become much more accessible in recent years in developed and least developed countries.
Main disadvantages of peer production
- The contributions of decentralized peer production can be of great interest and value to centralized markets and power groups. For example: a brand investing in market research to find out consumer preferences to advertise and persuade customers into buying their products.
- States and government entities can carry out mass surveillance, resulting in absolute control that is far from the concept of decentralization. For example: some governmental entities limit the number of transactions that citizens can make at a national and international level.
- There are companies that promote labor exploitation by contracting clickworkers. These are people who work for large brands in exchange for subcontracted and poorly paid jobs, cleaning databases, moderating content on social networks, or monitoring applications performance.
Examples of peer production
Some examples of successful peer production projects include:
- Linux, the free and open-source operating system (its full name is GNU/Linux) developed in 2006.
- The open-source Apache HTTP web server, developed in 2006 and maintained by a community of developers.
- Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia available in multiple languages created in 2001. Any user can contribute content, corrections or update data.
- "¿Qué es el software de código abierto?" en IBM.
- "Innovación distribuida y creatividad, trabajo colaborativo y el procomún en una economía en red" Benkler, Y., (2013) en Madrid, BBVA.
- "La riqueza de las redes: Cómo la producción social transforma los mercados y la libertad" Benkler, Y. (2015). Icaria editorial S.A. Barcelona.