Customer Reviews: Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything
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on January 14, 2007
Don Tapscott's book, Wikinomics, discussed many excellent and interesting high-level collaboration concepts but was somewhat of a disappointment because of Tapscott's "I invented the question mark" writing style. For example, Tapscott makes an attempt to label specialized networks, like Napster, as "Business Networks" and even proceeds to call them "b-webs":

"By 2000, when the music industry finally noticed it, the MP3 b-web had reached critical mass-tens of thousands of music files had become available for downloading over the Net-and Napster alone, record companies said, had cost them $300 million in lost sales."

You mean a "peer-to-peer music network?" As a management consultant by day, I even found myself rolling my eyes at some of Don's painful attempts to coin new jargon. I felt that Tapscott lost a lot of creditability by going down this path. The title alone, "Wikinomics", and the tagline, "How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything," should have given away that the consultantese was going to be thick.

Some sections of the book, like the "tagging" reference below, were just downright funny underlining that Tapscott doesn't have a very in-depth understanding of the technologies that are powering this collaboration phenomena. This suggests that Wikinomics was not edited by a broader audience:

"Tagging harnesses a technology called XML to allow users to affix descriptive labels or keyword to content (techies call it "metadata", or data about data). Wired cofounder Kevin Kelly aptly describes a tag as a public annotation-like a keyword or category name that you hang on a file, web page, or picture. When people tag content collaboratively, it creates a "folksonomy," essentially a bottom-up, organic taxonomy that organizes content on the web"

By definition, a tag does not harness XML. In fact, the two have nothing to do with each other. You could use XML to define a tag, but you could also use a database, file system metadata, or any other symbolic system to define a tag. Almost all web applications with tagging functionality store tagging data in a database system.

While this is a very small detail that Tapscott missed, this book is riddled with many of these small "misunderstandings" making me question the author's editorial process. Maybe if Tapscott had used a wiki to let others edit his transcript, a "techie" would have caught the error and corrected it ;)

Despite the nit-picky details, I would recommend the book to somebody who has never heard of a Wiki, blog, social network or of Web 2.0. It definitely gets the brain thinking about the exciting opportunities that lay ahead for both our professional and personal lives. Many interesting and innovative cases, including some new ways Proctor & Gamble is doing business outside of the traditional corporate hierarchy, are discussed in detail.

If you can stand the consultantese, have $25 laying around, and can find a couple hours to read, definitely pick up this book. If you don't have the time for the consultantese and want to understand what's really going on, pick up the Long Tail.

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This is a typical "new big thing" business book. Read this and you're on your way to a billion dollar fortune. In reality, the authors pretty much make it clear that they've already made their bucks huckstering this idea. On pages 2 and 3, they describe several "studies" they've already done on these concepts, raking in by their own admission $9 million. Not bad. Sell a study, collect a fee; write a book about the studies, earn royalties. If you're a fan of the early "South Park" you may recognize the business model of the underwear gnomes.

On page 3, the authors also present the bottom-line: "Billions of connected individuals cn now actively participate in innovation, wealth creation and social development in ways we once only dreamed of. And when these masses of people collaborate they effectively can advance the arts, culture, science, education, government and the economy in surprising but ultimately profitable ways." Step right up, ladies and gentlemen: it's the next big, new thing. Hitch your wagon to it and make billions!

There's page after page of success stories of companies using wikis, blogs and other forms of interactivity to achieve unparalleled successes. But there's a notable absence of tales of failure.

There's also the requisite introduction of new terms because English, the language of Shakespeare, is simply inadequate to describe Tapscott's concepts. "Ideagoras", anyone?

The endless boosterism in these pages is mind-numbing. By the way, if you need help in joining this revolution, Tapscott will consult. Hint. Hint. Hint.

Oh this mass collaboration idea is big. So big that it requires outlandish (and unprovable) comparisons: "With forty-two million items today the New York Public Library is larger than the Alexandria library, but there are still very few libraries that rival the collection of at Alexandria nearly two thousand years ago." Interesting enough, Wikipedia, which Tapscott hails as one of the stellar acheivements of mass collaboration describes the Alexandria library as mostly myth. No factual information exists to support claims about the Library of Alexandria, just as there is surprisingly little fact --- not hype --- to support any of Tapscott's claims. People may remember that it took some time before Ford admitted the Edsel was a bomb or for Coca-Cola to acknowledge that the "New Coke" had been rejected by the market. Thus, all of Tapscott's claims for the success of "mass collaborations", which originate for the most part with their implementors, must be taken with a grain of salt, as was the case with Tapscott's dot-com success stories in the 1990s.

As one might expect, there is little hard information in this book describing how to implement and operate mass collaboration schemes. Just one "success" story after another and endless, breathless proclamations that mass collaboration will change the world.

Is "Wikinomics" entirely useless? No. It is an effective compendium of some very interesting mass collaboration projects, although you have to work to get to the core facts through all the boosterism. It's easier than trying to gather the data through a Google search. Does "Wikinomics" truly point to a revolutionary new technique? No. It makes what people have been doing --- communicating in order to collaborate --- a lot easier, but doesn't really alter the fundamental concepts at work.

If you can deal with purple prose like "So get ready for the hyperempowered citizen. The new generation of digital citizens has the means of creation at their fingertips, so that anything that involves information and culture is grist for the mill of self-organized production". Yeah, we're all Shakespeares, Picassos, Fords and Edisons now.

Read this one for the core information, but ignore the endless hype. I would also suggest seeking other sources that are a bit less hyperbolic.

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Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams have written an intriguing, necessary and, in some ways, groundbreaking book, which we recommend to everyone...with some caveats. The authors examine the possibilities of mass collaboration, open-source software and evolutionary business practices. They integrate examples from the arts ("mashups"), scholarship (Wikipedia) and even heavy industry (gold mining) to argue that new forces are reshaping human societies. Some of their examples will be familiar, but others will surprise and educate you. However, the authors are so deeply part of the world they discuss that they may inflate it at times - for instance, making the actions of a few enthusiasts sound as if they already have transformed the Internet - and they sometimes fail to provide definitions or supporting data. Is the "blogosphere," for example, really making members of the younger generation into more critical thinkers? Tapscott and Williams repeatedly dismiss criticisms of their claims or positions without answering them. The result is that the book reads at times like a guidebook, at times like a manifesto and at times like a cheerleading effort for the world the authors desire. It reads, in short, like the Wikipedia they so admire: a valuable, exciting experiment that still contains a few flaws.
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VINE VOICEon December 28, 2006
Don Tapscott helped found the new economics associated with the Web with Digital Economy and Digital Capital. Wikinomics seeks the same goal using the features and functions of Web 2.0 as a basis for new forms of business collaboration and opportunity.

Tapscott takes numerous examples of next generation collaboration and social networks to point to the potential of the next generation of the web where customization, tailoring, self-publishing are viable business activities. The examples which range from assaying gold deposits to creating new rap albums are compelling. They lay the foundation for the principles of wikinomics that include:

BEING OPEN to allow customers, peers and others more access to your content, intellectual capital to collaborate and create something new.

PEERING to recognize that people form their own communities to create value, such as open source, and prefer these communities to traditional hierarchies that concentrate on control.

SHARING to overturn the economics of scarcity in favor of wide distribution and tailoring. In this regard, value comes not form distribution but from application of your products and services.

From these principles Tapscott discusses the following actors that will bring this world to the forefront of business:

1. Peer pioneers who will create the new business models based on wikinomics and found the companies that will displace both traditional companies and first generation web companies.

2. Ideagoras the creation of open forums where ideas are freely shared and developed based on attracting world class talent from around the connected world.

3. Prosumers who are a rising group of customers who will both produce and consume new products and services.

4. New Alexandrians the 'librarians' who will bring people together. In other words, the mavens that draw the Prosumers into the Ideagoras.

5. Platforms of Participation which is where the wiki economy will happen. These are places where companies open their products and platforms to enable collaboration and creation of next generation products and businesses.

6. Global Plant Floor recognizes that manufacturing has become more open and able to support mass customized products. This is essential for new products to get to market effectively.

7. Wiki Workplace the environment where people will collaborate in the future, connect and collaborate to create new sources of value.

If you have read down this far, you see both the strength and the challenges associated with this book.

Tapscott does a great job of illustrating the very real possibilities associated with the new social and collaborative capabilities provided by the web. These are real phenomenons that are currently cutting apart the music, media, financial services and just about every industry. Executives ignore these developments at their peril.

However, those possibilities are wrapped up in jargon to such an extent that they detract from the message. It is like Tapscott is trying to invent a new language for the sake of coining new terms. This is probably a manifestation of the very forces Tapscott writes about as in a `wiki' world you need to differentiate yourself, establish your brand and uniqueness. But he does so at the risk of alienating the reader who is in most need of the advice in the book. Effective communication still matters and the reason this is not a five star recommendation.

This book is good and perhaps one of the founding books for the next wave of Internet intensive business innovation. Time alone guarantees that many of the things Tapscott talks about will happen as new digital consumers gain incomes and responsibilities. The question is will you be able to go where the economy is heading, or be willing to accept the opportunity cost of staying where you are.
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on July 17, 2007
Tapscott produced a mediocre formula book of stealing big ideas from other people and then dumbs them down and runs them through the hype-o-meter to produce meaningless pap.

There are several basic messages of the book better expained by the referenced books:

1. The Digital age Changes Everything See: Reviolutionary Wealth Alvin & Heidi Toffler
2. The Digital age changes the way we live and work: See: Release 2.0 Esther Dyson
3. There is a social life of information See: The Social Life of Inforamtion John Seely-Brown)
4. Everything is linked see: Linked byAlbert-Laszlo Barabasi

All the rest in the book is buzzword bingo and hyping technology which is here today and highly evolved tommorow. The book is devoid of meaningful reference and isz built largely off of unsophisticated self published sources.

Skim it in a brink and mortar store or at you library and you will have more time to read the more solid references listed above.
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VINE VOICEon June 3, 2007
For me, a review for a book like this one is very difficult to write. The reason is that I agree passionately with much of what Tapscott and Williams have to say. I do believe that we are headed for a more collaborative "wiki-world" and that everyone needs to consider how to adapt to prosper in this new world. Unfortunately, this book is just frustrating to read.

Wikinomics suffers from a common malady among these "cheerleading for the future"-type books; namely, that what they take 300 pages to say could have been more easily and better said in about 60 pages. To keep things going for the requisite length, the prose is padded with myriad examples and anecdotes--some interesting, some less so. Every chapter is a variation on the same theme and, despite their catchy slogans for each chapter, did not need a full chapter's development as all roads here lead to the same destination.

Additionally, Tapscott and Williams are not powerful prose stylists. I read this book with a group of other people and the most common responses I heard were "dense" and "tough to get through." And I agree that it can be a real slog to get through some parts of this book. Another result, I think, of spending way too much time to get to too few points.

Which is really too bad. Tapscott and Williams have some powerful things to say but, though they are being propped up right now by their zeroing in on an important cultural target, I feel the importance of their message is ultimately going to be lost in time because of the prose. Still, they have opened up a big can of ideas which will hopefully find continued development.
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on March 22, 2008
There are lots of simplistic syllogistic arguments put forth without much elaborations in this verbose repetitive book. The theme and arguments not strong and quite some examples are pretty bad and confusing. The so-called predictions are conjured up without much profound thought processes. they also lack quantitative analyses, which I would expect for all arguments put forth. The author doesn't seem to have spent much time in researching when writing up all these college level arguments. To give analogies, this book is full of arguments like "if you are hungry, eat", "you need to sue, find a lawyer".
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Out of respect for Laura K. Turner's deeper knowledge of this author, I am integrating some of her observations and correcting myself where appropriate. The edit below raising the book to a four was done immediately after publishing the original review.

EDIT: After reading Cass Sunstein's book, which earned a four, I feel compelled to raise this to a four but Amazon does not allow me to change star ratings. This is a solid four, the preening not-withstanding.

There are a *lot* of platitudes in this double-spaced book, to the point that I felt I was reading a very simplified version of more complex ideas (which is of course a plus when dealing with ill-informed corporate chiefs and policy-makers (see Ben Gilad, "Blindspots" from Infonortics UK, not available via Amazon).

I've read stuff by this primary author (Tapscott) before and he has certainly made sustained contributions to our understanding, am just wondering if this book was a bit too quickly done--it struck me as more simplistic and shallower than I expected. Although Ms. Turner refers to seven distinct business models, neither "model" nor "business model" appear in the book's index, and my original impression, after a second look at the book and my notes, stands: the subtitle says it all: this is about mass collaboration.

There are a few flaws with this book that would normally take it down to three stars, but given the importance of the topic, the quick read, and the known serious past of the author, I have brought it back up to four after comparing it with "Infotopia." It is double-spaced with a heavy dose of jargon, with a very over-simplified and uncritical view of the unfettered joys of globalization. This author has evidently never heard of "true cost" or "natural capitalism."

In light of Ms. Turner's comments, I freely admit to lacking the deeper understanding of past books by the primary author, and I suspect that her spirited defense of this book rests more on substance from the past that a reader of this book cannot fathom.

As one who was first educated in the 1970's, I found it a real irritant to have the author appear to invent and be the catalyst for ideas like prosumer (Alvin Toffler, first used in his keynote speech to my annual conference in 1993), importance of external knowledge (Peter Drucker), and the paradigm shift (Thomas Kuhn in "The Structure of Scientific Revolution"). The author says that he "Don" wrote the book on paradigm shifts. Although the author footnotes the first two, not the third, this is in the end-notes and the sense of preening and exaggeration is distinctly annoying, especially when combined with the almost total lack of recognition of any of the 300 or so books by others about wealth of knowledge, infinite wealth, forbidden knowledge, Voltaire's bastards, etc. This struck me as a very self-centered book in more ways than one.

Now, Ms. Turner says a book should be judged on its rigor, coherence, creativity, and readability. B for the first two, A for the second two.

Although the author mentions GoogleEarth on more than one occasion, there is not real development in this book of the importance of the geospatial foundation for sharing all information in historical and cultural context.

A few minor thoughts worth noting:

--Well-done Wikis (the author makes no mention of trolls or all the other problems associated with Wikipedia) cut email by 75% and meetings by 50%. Would that this were so, and properly documented, but it's a start.

--90% of most R&D is internal and therefore lacking in the diversity that might come from the larger open network. This is *very* important. We need to build the World Brain and machine-speed translation and integration. Singapore, the Nordic nations, and even Estonia are ahead of the USA in this area.

--top billion people are believed by some to have 2-6 spare hours a day during which they could be contributing knowledge and mentoring to the larger group. [Bottom five billion desperately need to be connected to the Net for free, and if we did that--for what we have spent on Iraq we could have given out 5 billion free cell phones--they would create infinite wealthy.]

--Bill Gates thinks that Free/Open Source Software is communist. I guess that's the equivalent of me thinking Microsoft is fascist.

--Four things I had *not* heard of: CollabNet, Scorecard, InnoCentive, and TakingITGlobal.

I am posting two customer images here to try to make the point that the world of mass collaboration is a great deal more complicated and also a great deal more exciting, than the author communicates.

Bottom line: if you are not immersed in this topic, and want one book to partly understand your kids and the emerging, this one will do nicely. It was not deep enough to fully occupy me during a five hour trip from coast to coast--take a second book as back-up.

In addition to acknowledging Ms. Turner's helpful and professionally presented observations, I am using the new feature to add links to other books I recommend. You can see my many lists (especially the one on creating infinite wealth and the other on cheating the 90% that do the real work) for many other recommendations, and if you want to see my reviews easily when books have tens or hundreds of reviews, use the selection box in the upper right of your Amazon profile page. I do not list the author's books because of the limit to 10, but certainly Paradigm Shift and The Digital Economy as well as Digital Capital can be considered.

I conclude that I read broadly and Ms. Turner reads deeply, and I hope this review is a useful intersection of our combined paths.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Introduction to Paradigms: Overview, Definitions, Categories, Basics, Optimizing Paradigms & Paradigm Engines
Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems and the Economic World
Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Power at the Edge of the 21st Century
Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution
The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom
Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge

Three new references (10 May 2008):
Society's Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration
Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace
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on May 11, 2007
Now really, the subject for this book is excellent. It has sound advice and good message. But geez, there is so much repetition and meaningless blabber and buzzwords that you just go crazy, especially if you read the audiobook version like I did.
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on June 10, 2010
This book is a case study in "jumping the shark". The author correctly identified a new phenomenon (call it wikinomics, or crowdsouring or whatever). Unfortunately, I was seven chapters deep and he had still to provide one single insight that I could not have inferred from the title. Worse. The style is turgid and filled with jargon. If you buy this book, make sure you buy some Aspirin at the same time.
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