I'm most of the way through Yochai Benkler's
new 500-page tome, The Wealth of Networks
, which is being variously touted as the most important book of the century, the "central text" of the new, information-commons based economy, etc, etc.
I've had mixed reactions. On the one hand, Benkler's robust treatment of the economics of what he calls "nonmarket" based peer production (ie, information goods produced via collaborative, not-for-profit efforts such as the open-source software community, Wikipedia and so on) comes as a welcome antidote to all those vapid Web 2.0 collabowikipodbloglongtail powerpoint presentations doing the rounds these days. He also does a good job teasing out the implications for public policy, from intellectual property law to telecoms regulation.
On the other hand, Benkler's examples in chief - Second Life, Wikipedia, Linux, etc - are all most familiar and much chewed over already. And like a lot of academics, his wordiness often cloaks meaning and hinders understanding. I mean, aren't there friendlier ways of telling us that the "structure of our information environment is constitutive of our autonomy, not only functionally significant to it"? Alas, Benkler's prose is chock full of contextual relevance delivering characteristic alternative postulates that balance institutional imperatives and asymmetrical proprietary incentives which facilitate radically decentralized schema in general and socio-economic distributive functions in particular. Sigh.
Having said that, I do like the stance he takes on technological determinism (Technology does not determine evolution. It is co-determined with culture, etc) and his assumption that the information commons will arise alongside for-profit, market-based production, and not replace it. Regardless of the rightness of this assumption, its practical bent is blessedly free of the ideology that clouds reason on both sides of this most important debate.