Saturday, June 17, 2006

Free Markets of Knowledge

The march of global economic liberalization is a process that many people misunderstand. Ideally, government regulation retreats, unleashing the power of markets. Thus, as economic globalization advances, the nation-state retreats.

There is a problem with this vision. Markets need the coercive power of states to survive. For example, if we lack an effective legal regime to protect intellectual property (IP), knowledge and information markets cannot function well. Furthermore, restricting the flow of IP online runs counter to the utility and usage of the Internet.

But the Internet is hardly a place of freely flowing information and knowledge. While Wikipedia demonstrates an emerging model for the knowledge economy, some coercion and hierarchies of power are necessary. This article in the New York Times highlights the debate about Wikipedia's editorial policy:

At its core, Wikipedia is not just a reference work but also an online community that has built itself a bureaucracy of sorts — one that, in response to well-publicized problems with some entries, has recently grown more elaborate. It has a clear power structure that gives volunteer administrators the authority to exercise editorial control, delete unsuitable articles and protect those that are vulnerable to vandalism.

The days of the Wild West on the Internet are quickly drawing to a close. Protocols are developing that improve the efficiency and efficacy of these online knowledge communities. Promoting the knowledge production of novices, instead of experts, takes a great deal of work and gatekeepers are a necessary evil.

No comments: