Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tragedy of the Electronic Commons

"When two attorneys enraged millions of Internet users by publishing identical advertisements on six thousand unique network discussions known as "newsgroups," they were attacking a tradition of cooperation. Now the same attorneys are flogging a book and trying to convince readers of op-ed articles that they have been the victims of elitist attacks by Internet intellectuals who oppose honest business on the Net. Citizens on and off the Internet need to understand exactly how these hucksters are trying to deceive us, before we lose a precious resource.

For many people, these thousands of newsgroups have constituted a worldwide, multimillion member, collective thinktank, available twenty-four hours a day to answer any question from the trivial to the scholarly. If you have a question about sports statistics, scientific knowledge, technical lore -- anything -- someone has the answer. This magical knowledge-multiplying quality comes from the voluntary effort of many people who freely contribute expertise. That power of a large group of people to act as a thinktank for each other is vulnerable to misuse. A small number of malefactors can mess up a good thing for a large number of cooperative citizens."

Later in the blog...

"The lawyers' actions conveyed the message that their personal commercial ambitions were more important than the value of the commons. And that is the message they have been preaching -- get yours while you can, and ignore the protests of those who value the online culture of information-sharing. If these carpetbaggers prove successful, will others follow? How far can a network of cooperative agreements be pushed by the self-interest of individuals before it loses its value? When a flood of irrelevant announcements swamps newsgroups and mailing lists, what will happen to the support networks for cancer patients and Alzheimers' caregivers?"

The Tragedy of the Electronic Commons, Howard Rheingold

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