Mini Book Review – Wikinomics (Tapscott and Williams)
Posted by markharrison on May 1, 2007
If, like me, you’re in the UK, you are going to have trouble getting hold of this book, since the hardback wasn’t released over here, and the paperback won’t be until July.
However, I’d heard good things about this, so I found a copy (on eBay Canada!) and got the vendor to fly it over 🙂
The fundamental premise of “Wikinomics” is that the value gained by sharing “information” with “the community” is often greater that the value that is given away by so doing.
An example: Office software
Apologies for picking an example from the IT industry – but it’s what I know, and there aren’t that many great examples from the property investment community 🙂
OpenOffice.org vs. Microsoft Office. Microsoft Office costs about £300. If you buy a copy, you have the right to use it on a single PC, and use it “as is”. OpenOffice (primarily made by Sun – another US software company with a billionaire founder) costs £0. If you download a copy, you have the right to install it on multiple PCs, and make changes to it… If you want to share those changes with other people, you submit them back to Sun, and if they like them, they will be included in the next release of the product. You won’t get paid for this (other than in reputation, which is as important in the IT community as the rest of the business world), but everyone will get a better product.
Now, I write as an OpenOffice.org user – frankly, I don’t find it (overall) as good as MS Office. However, it’s got one feature I love and use all the time – it can convert a file into Adobe “PDF” format. SMS Office can’t do that – you need to buy additional software such as Acrobat Standard at an extra £150. (Adobe aren’t dumb – the reader is £0, but the writer is £150.) Hence, while MSO is better, it’s not worth an extra £450 to me, so I stay with OpenOffice.org.
Tapscott and Williams make the point that no-one could, realistically, compete with Microsoft in producing a competitor to MS Office, if they had to do all the development themselves, but by opening up the “code” to its competitors, Sun is producing a product that is close. However, they can’t make money selling the product directly, but they can sell services. Hence there’s a “cost per seat” version of the product, called Star Office, which they do sell as a direct competitor to MSO – and that product also includes the community improvements. Works well for everyone except Microsoft shareholders.
It’s not just about IT
These concepts are familiar within the IT industry, but Wikinomics introduces the concept of “community product development” to a wider, business, audience.
The key message I need to get over in this review is that the concepts are beginning to be used heavily outside of the IT industry, and the book introduces examples from, say, the mining industry as an area where things that used to be regarded as company secrets, are now actively in the public domain… because sometimes customers, commentators, or just interested people can improve upon them, and those improvements can be fed back on a “share and share alike” basis.
I’m a convert to the concept, by the way – I posted a few weeks ago about the fact that anyone was welcome to take any of my articles, either from this blog, or from the YourPropertyExpert.com newsletter, and re-write them (provided they included a link back to me.) What I get is improved material (and hopefully extra readers of the newsletter.) The hope for me is that doing this is twofold – firstly I might sell extra copies of my paid-for products because more people know about them… but secondly, I get back ideas about how to tweak my own investment strategy, and do things better, because people take what I’ve written, and improve upon it.
So, what’s the book like?
It’s good – well worth a read. It’s well-written, and not too evangelistic. One of the problems with much that’s written about these concepts is that the writing is done by “evangelists”, or people who tell you that you should use Linux because of the (sic) moral argument.
Tapscott and Williams freely admit that the “Wikinomics” model isn’t the only one, or always the best, and pull out comparisons with other companies who have taken completely the opposite approach. For example, Sony have a complete “lockdown” policy on their products, so that “community improvements” made to, say, their consoles, stop working the next time they get an official update from Sony.
The arguments they make don’t claim to be “moral”, but are economic – and they don’t make conclusions about which is better – they do, however, do an excellent job of presenting the arguments for the “community collaboration” model of product- and service- development.
Is it worth importing? Probably not 🙂
Should you get it in July – yup!