It is remarkable that the development of online collaboration, of social production networks and online communities, and of the New Commons itself, is happening in a backdrop of increased wariness with the perceived maladies of over-extended globalization, the surge in power of transnational corporations, the exclusion of large populations from participation in a world dominated by the unequal relation between technological have and have-nots.
It seems to be a response by the global digital citizen that will not relinquish his capacity to choose the community, market or production network that he or she is willing to participate in. The digital citizen that is not content with being forced to consume commercial software, institutional encyclopedias or mass media.
In some sense it is the creation of a new socio-economic environment for production, integration and collaboration. The idea may seem just another social Utopia, but the vitality of its emergence and the results to date point to the contrary. Might the communitarian ideal be possible by pervasive social software?
“Ubiquitous Human Computing” (Zittrain) makes working independent of location, employer and the body itself. Productive workers can be integrated into a loosely connected PSPN by virtue of residence in the Internet “cloud”. New and very productive ways of linking people, computers and work are becoming reality.
The work performed in a PSPN is inherent to the community and goes mainly to increase the social capital and common goods of the community. The advent of the PSPN has been declared a “shadow workforce” (Howe), a group of individuals outside the realm of markets and companies that perform work and are engaged in a productive process of their own making. There is growing interest in markets and companies to be able to tap into this network of informally working individuals for profit.
Online social networks apparently obey neither market pricing rules nor corporate command. Their rules are framed by collaboration, trust, common property and personal motivation. Their social codex can be disturbed if changes in those rules are attempted, which can lead to a sort of “Tragedy of the Commons” (Harding): overuse and failure to generate reciprocity. Their leading design principle seems to be cooperation, in some cases even altruism, as opposed to selfish (i.e. capitalist) economic interest, running counter the idea of the homo oeconomicus.
Online social networks and the PSPN are not systems that emerge out of pure chance and selfless attrition. They are indeed economic systems in which motivations and gains can be studied and reproduced. The communities have an important role in designing and implementing a working organization. Their characteristics, policies and rules are varied and carried out in many different ways.