Peer Production: An Agent of Good or Evil?
A Comparative Essay in the Context of Wikipedia
Traditionally, centralized organizations such as governments, religious institutions and universities were responsible for information production and sharing. However, over the past decade, the Internet has decentralized the process and promoted open-source software (OSS). OSS is software that is freely used, edited, and shared by anyone. As a result of OSS, users are able to generate content, also known as peer production. Peer production, according to Yochai Benkler (2006, p. 85), is a way of voluntarily donating meaningful, collaborative information from dynamic people. One modern example is ...view middle of the document...
Similarly, diverse ideas are important in creating high quality information and making educated decisions. For Surowiecki (2004):
The fact that cognitive diversity matters does not mean that if you assemble a group of diverse but thoroughly uninformed people, their collective wisdom will be smarter than an expert's. But if you can assemble a diverse group of people who possess varying degrees of knowledge and insight, you're better off entrusting it with major decisions rather than leaving them in the hands of one or two people, no matter how smart those people are. (Surowiecki, 2004, p. 31)
This means that diverse opinions (due to different levels of knowledge) are more valuable than the views of a few experts. Surowiecki (2004) explained that most experts within a field tend to think alike and conform to what other experts believe without challenging the results. Moreover, these experts can also be biased due to restricted amounts of information. Rarely, he added, does an expert show the complexity and the entirety of a question or research topic (p. 22). Agreeably, no single expert can understand everything about a topic, especially in a constantly changing environment. However, many people can give multiple views and illuminate the issue better.
Nevertheless, Surowiecki (2004) admitted that peer production has flaws. It does not always produce precise content and informed decisions. He clarified that the failures are often caused by the contributors becoming biased or concerned with the opinions of others. Consequently, they often follow the ideas of others (called “group think”) rather than thinking separately (p. 30).
Likewise, the Joseph Reagle’s book titled Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia (2010) supported Surowiecki’s claim that peer production and collaboration can have many advantages. According to Reagle (2010), Wikipedia allows content creators and editors to give and synthesize their views. This ability, he said, creates a comprehensive and reliable resource since people assume “good faith” (p. 60). Good faith implies that everyone attempts to objectively help the project without hidden agendas or malice.
In sharp contrast, Andrew Keen (2007) blamed peer production for producing low quality information. For Keen, society’s support of the amateur-generated content means that “in today’s cult of the amateur, the monkeys are running the show” (p. 9). He stressed that Internet contributors know little about fact-finding or writing skills. Moreover, Keen explained:
In the digital world’s never ending stream of unfiltered, user-generated content, things are indeed often not what they seem. Without [expert] editors, fact-checkers, administrators, or regulators to monitor what is being posted, we have no one to vouch for the reliability or credibility of the content we read. (Keen, 2007, p. 16)
However, Keen disregarded the fact that Wikipedia does have administrators who vet the information. And, he also...