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Through peer production — often expanded as commons-based peer production — a self-selected set of peers join to work through cooperative effort coordinated through the decentralized operation of shared expectations and procedures. As understanding of peer production in a digital commons develops through considerations here, contributors should consider adjustments to the procedures outlined for construction of new articles.
StudyPlace and peer production
StudyPlace enables experimentation with peer production through a digital commons. It obviously differs from Wikipedia in having a much more restricted scope. It differs more fundamentally by not following Wikipedia's policy of no original research. That policy makes excellent sense for a general purpose encyclopedia created through peer production. We want to show, however, that peer production can generate original ideas and advance knowledge in significant ways.
Peer production and the advancement of learning
Proponents of commons-based peer production need to work hard to develop the capacity to make important advances in knowledge and technical innovation. Historically the commons has engendered conservative, static attachments. Critics of contemporary peer production have been suggesting that it is most effective at creating free versions of existing resources — Linux copies UNIX and other operating systems; Apache is a solid version of more costly web servers; Wikipedia is a very dynamic encyclopedia explicitly eschewing original research and publication. Other large Wiki-based information sites specialize in explaining how to do all sorts of common tasks, making useful know-how more generally accessible. Can peer production be a means to advance the state of knowledge, to develop new technology, and to create difficult cultural innovations?
This question may have some cultural urgency. Societies can unintentionally turn themselves into static, inward-looking, troubled enterprises. Powerful historical forces are challenging traditional intellectual property arrangements, which, for better and for worse, have been the foundation for creative effort in publishing, entertainment, and technology. It is not simply that digital technologies make it easier to violate copyright; they profoundly diminish the material value of the right to copy. Digital reproduction has a trivial monetary cost per copy and has no substantive cost, for successive copies do not degrade in quality and remain identical to the digital original. The only value in the right to copy arises from perpetuating vestigial rights through anachronistic legal arrangements. These have, however, mobilized and channeled creative effort for the past several centuries. What happens if practices of peer production in a digital commons largely supplant the traditional arrangements without developing effective arrangements to encourage and direct intellectual, technological, and cultural innovation?
Peer production and the nature of communication
It may be worth exploring the hypothesis that all communication involves forms of peer production. What scholars such as Joseph Loewenstein are calling "possessive authorship," the idea that a work is the unique creation of its author, who can own it as a form of intellectual property, may be much less fundamental than it has seemed to be in an ethos shaped by ideologies of possessive individualism.
Forms of peer production
A tentative list needing completion with reflection on how each is a form of peer production and the principles that conduce to its working well. . . .
- Author plus reader response
- Correspondence (two people interact without an external audience)
- Dialog (Structured interaction between two interlocutors surrounded by an audience)
- Debate (Individuals taking opposing sides on a question before an audience)
- Symposia (Multiple presentations on a single topic)
- Conversation (Multiple speakers interacting in a self-disciplined way on a topic)
- Peer authoring
- Encyclopedic articles
- Lectures — introductory, intermediate, advanced
- Essays, books, pamphlets, group blogs, etc.
- Public peer reviewing
- Peer translations
- Loewenstein, Joseph. The Author's Due: Printing and the Prehistory of Copyright (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000).
- Loewenstein, Joseph. Ben Jonson and Possessive Authorship (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
- Macpherson, C. B. The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1962).