Peer production (also known by the term mass collaboration) is a way of producing goods and services that relies on self-organizing communities of individuals who come together to produce a shared outcome. The content is produced by the general public rather than by paid professionals and experts in the field.[dubious ] In these communities, the efforts of a large number of people are coordinated to create meaningful projects. The information age, especially the Internet, has provided the peer production process with new collaborative possibilities and has become a dominant and important mode of producing information. Free and open source software are two examples of modern processes of peer production. One of the earliest instances of networked peer production is Project Gutenberg, a project that involves volunteers that make "etexts" from out-of-copyright works available online. Modern examples are Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, and Linux, a computer operating system. For-profit enterprises mostly use partial implementations of peer production, and would include such sites as Flickr, Etsy, Digg, and Delicious. Peer production refers to the production process on which the previous examples are based. Commons-based peer production is a subset of peer production.
Peer production occurs in a socio-technical system which allows thousands of individuals to effectively cooperate to create a non-exclusive given outcome. These collective efforts are informal. Peer production is a collaborative effort with no limit to the amount of discussion or changes that can be made to the product. However, as in the case of Wikipedia, a large amount, in fact the majority, of this collaborative effort is maintained by very few devoted and active individuals.
Peer production has also been utilized in producing collaborative Open Education Resources (OERs). Writing Commons, an international open textbook spearheaded by Joe Moxley at the University of South Florida, has evolved from a print textbook into a crowd-sourced resource for college writers around the world. Massive open online course (MOOC) platforms have also generated interest in building online eBooks. The Cultivating Change Community (CCMOOC) at the University of Minnesota is one such project founded entirely on a grassroots model to generate content. In 10 weeks, 150 authors contributed more than 50 chapters to the CCMOOC eBook and companion site. The Peer to Peer University has applied peer production principles to online open learning communities and peer learning.
Although many scholars view peer production as an Internet-mediated social phenomenon that has created valuable collaborative communities, several opponents have emerged in recent years to challenge this view. Researchers like Daniel Kreiss, Megan Finn, and Fred Turner criticize the dominant utopian consensus for maintaining an overly esteeming view of peer production. In their 2010 article, they assert that this new mode of production exists as an alternative to the traditional form of bureaucracy. Referencing Max Weber’s analysis of modern bureaucracy, Kreiss et al urge those with a celebratory consensus of peer production to scrutinize its foundation in the same manner that Weber evaluates properties of bureaucracy. They argue that bureaucracy possesses more functional aspects to better handle social problems than peer production, which they consider unsustainable. To offer an example, the three authors state that bureaucracy promotes a rationally organized, rule-oriented functioning of society. Kreiss, Finn, and Turner then proclaim that this aspect becomes undermined by peer production due to its tendency to encourage individual behavior based on private morality. This tendency, they reason, degenerates autonomy by “collapsing public and private boundaries” or in other words by allowing people’s professional lives extend into their private domains.
Other critics of peer production dispute that its openness to participation can potentially generate misinformation or products of amateur quality. In Andrew Keen’s book The Cult of the Amateur, he assesses generated content from peer production on the Internet and expresses his belief that it exists as a “smokescreen”, emptily promising to provide more truth and depth of knowledge. He declares that this information revolution is actually leading to the disappearance of truth. According to Keen, the Internet advocates peer production to a questionable degree by permitting anyone to post information freely. This form of peer production, he cautions, leaves room for people to plagiarize ideas and distort original thoughts, which he says ultimately creates an uncertainty in the validity of information. Another author, Jaron Lanier, uses Wikipedia as an example to similarly illustrate how dependence on mass collaboration in some cases may result in unreliable or biased content. He warns that websites like Wikipedia promote the notion of the “collective” as all knowing, and that this concentrated influence stands in direct contrast to representative democracy. Lanier then reminds us that this idea has led to detrimental consequences in the past.
In addition to these opposing views, other criticisms stem from the postulation claiming peer production does not perform as well in some contexts as it does in others. Paul Duguid suggests in his article that peer production works less efficiently outside the bounds of software development. He states that if society continues to rely on peer production in various domains of information production, then a search for ways to guarantee quality will become necessary. Yochai Benkler similarly proposes that peer production may produce functional works like encyclopedias more proficiently than creative works. Despite the valuable potential of peer production, several critics continue to doubt extensive collaboration and its ability to yield high quality outputs.
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