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Wikinomics and mass collaboration

I'm reading Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (which is co-authored by Don Tapscott, the man who coined the term "paradigm shift," an act for which I have actually heard him apologize) before I go to sleep each night, which means I don't remember very much of it. (I bet you do the same thing.

I'm reading Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (which is co-authored by Don Tapscott, the man who coined the term "paradigm shift," an act for which I have actually heard him apologize) before I go to sleep each night, which means I don't remember very much of it. (I bet you do the same thing.) But I'm intrigued by the parts I do remember, and over the next few posts, we'll survey Wikinomics insofar as I can recall it.

The book's primary thesis is that we're entering an age of mass collaboration in which organizations and individuals will cooperate to produce knowledge on a scale never before seen. His lead example--so I assume it sets the tone for much of the book--is Goldcorp.

So What?

Goldcorp, a Canadian mining company, had 400 megabytes of assay data (analyses of deep core samples) taken from a 55,000-acre tract of land. They knew from the samples that there was gold to be found--but not exactly where, and conventional exploration techniques would have cost the company two or three years that it didn't have (it was nearly bankrupt). Their new CEO, a very savvy former mutual fund manager with little mining experience, persuaded his geologists (very much against their wills) to make the assay data public--and to offer a prize for whoever could use it to determine where new shafts should be dug.

It worked absurdly well. Analyses came in from some 1,000 contestants in 50 countries--geologists, applied mathematicians, computer graphics researchers and many others. Goldcorp used the submissions to work out locations for a new set of shafts, most of which became very productive indeed. In fact, the company's market capitalization (the total value of its stock) went from $100,000,000 in 1993 to $9 billion today.

This is a terriffic story, no question about it. There's only one tiny problem. Remember (of course, you don't--you're too young) those contests consumer goods companies used to run in which you were challenged to come up with a new slogan or jingle for one of their products and if you won you'd get a year's supply of that product (room freshener, for example)? That's effectively what Goldcorp did, and it was a huge success. But it wasn't collaboration, mass or otherwise: It was an independent competition in which contestants cooperated neither with one another nor with Goldcorp. It wasn't a peculiarly modern, Internet-enabled phenomenon: It was a situation as old as humanity (or, at any rate, as old as room freshener) itself.

Frankly, the example leaves me a bit fuzzy about the book's thesis. It'll be intriguing to see how Wikinomics plays out in subsequent chapters--I'll be particularly interested in whether more clear-cut examples of mass collaboration are put forward. Based on its title, I think we can assume that the Wikipedia--probably the most successful example of mass collaboration in history--will make an appearance. Until then, sleep well.