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Commons-based peer production is a term coined by Harvard Law School professor Yochai Benkler to describe a new model of economic production in which the creative energy of large numbers of people is coordinated (usually with the aid of the Internet) into large, meaningful projects mostly without traditional hierarchical organization. These projects are often, but not always, conceived without financial compensation for contributors. The term is often used interchangeably with the term "social production." Benkler contrasts commons-based peer production with firm production (in which tasks are delegated based on a central decision-making process) and market-based production (in which tagging different prices to different tasks serves as an incentive to anyone interested in performing a task).

The term was first introduced and described in Benkler's seminal paper "Coase's Penguin, or, Linux and the Nature of the Firm."[1] Benkler's 2006 book, The Wealth of Networks, expands significantly on these ideas. In the book, Benkler makes a distinction between commons-based peer production and peer production. The former is based on sharing resources among widely distributed individuals who cooperate with each other. The latter term is a subset of commons-based production practices. It refers to a production process that depend on individual action that is self-selected and decentralized. YouTube and Facebook, for example, are based on this kind of peer production.

In Wikinomics, Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams suggest an incentive mechanism behind common-based peer production. "People participate in peer production communities," they write, "for a wide range of intrinsic and self-interested reasons....basically, people who participate in peer production communities love it. They feel passionate about their particular area of expertise and revel in creating something new or better." [2]

Aaron Krowne (Free Software Magazine), meanwhile, offers another definition:

"commons-based peer production refers to any coordinated, (chiefly) internet-based effort whereby volunteers contribute project components, and there exists some process to combine them to produce a unified intellectual work. CBPP covers many different types of intellectual output, from software to libraries of quantitative data to human-readable documents (manuals, books, encyclopedias, reviews, blogs, periodicals, and more)."[3]


First, the potential goals of peer production must be modular. That means, objectives must be divisible into components, or modules, each of which can be independently produced. This allows production to be cumulative and asynchronous, merging the individual diverse efforts of different people, with different background and skills, who are available at various places and time.[4]

Second, the granularity of the modules is essential. Granularity will allow people with different levels of motivation to work together by contributing little or large grained contributions, consistent with their level of interest in the project and motivation.[4]

Third, a successful peer-production enterprise must have low-cost integration — the mechanism by which the modules are integrated into a whole end product.Thus,integration must include both quality controls over the modules and a mechanism for integrating the contributions into the finished product at relatively low cost.[4]


Examples of projects using commons-based peer production include:


Several outgrowths have been:

  • Customization/Specialization: With free and open source software small groups have the capability to customize a large project according to specific needs.
  • Longevity: Once code is released under a copyleft free software license it is almost impossible to remove it from the public domain.
  • Cross-fertilization: Experts in a field can work on more than one project with no legal hassles.
  • Technology Revisions: A core technology gives rise to new implementations of existing projects.
  • Technology Clustering: Groups of products tend to cluster around a core set of technology and integrate with one another.

Related concepts[edit]

The ease in and leaving is a feature of adhocracies.

The principle of commons-based peer production is similar to collective invention, a model of open innovation in economics coined by Robert Allen.[5]

Open community[edit]

Open Community is an application of the idea of open source to other collaborative effort. What distinguishes an open community from a closed one is that anyone may join and contribute, that the direction and goals are determined collaboratively by all members of the community, and that the resulting work is made available under a free license.


An Open Community Project is a software project that offers a "Free Space" to people around a topic that unites them and is open to the whole Worldwide Community.

Open means free as not having to pay for contribution or adherence while not forcing discrimination in a way that some group would be excluded to participate in developing the project.

Open Community Projects take place in the Real World as well as in the "Virtual World" and are often supported by Open Software such as Wiki's, mailing lists/discussion fora, chat, polling tools and many more.

A basic example of where the term is used: "It would be a good idea if the United Nations, the USA and the EU and other democracies would also offer the free Hard Disk space they have to their communities for them to develop Open Community Projects on them and a Free Space, thus to foster participation of their and other citizens into democracies and keeping the democratic level in their democracies as high as possible." [6]


Peer production enterprises have two primary advantages over both markets and firm hierarchies:

Information gain: allows individuals to self-identify for tasks that suit them better and generate more structured and lively updated information about the skills and availability of actors for tasks.

Great variability of human and information resources: leads to substantial increasing returns to scale to the number of people, and resources and projects that may be accomplished without need for a contract or other factor permitting the proper use of the resource for a project.[7]


Some believe that the commons-based peer production (CBPP) vision, while powerful and groundbreaking, needs to be strengthened at its root because of some allegedly wrong assumptions concerning free and open source software (FOSS).

The CBPP literature regularly and explicitly quotes FOSS products as examples of artifacts “emerging” by virtue of mere cooperation, with no need for supervising leadership (without «market signals or managerial commands», in Benkler’s words).

It can be argued, however, that in the development of any less than trivial piece of software, irrespective of whether it be FOSS or proprietary, a subset of the (many) participants always play -explicitly and deliberately- the role of leading system and subsystem designers, determining architecture and functionality, while most of the people work “underneath” them in a logical, functional sense[8].

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Coase's Penguin or Linux and The nature of the firm The paper also includes a long study of what motivates contributors.
  2. ^ Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (2006), by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, Portfolio Books, p 70
  3. ^ Krowne, Aaron (March 1, 2005). "The FUD based encyclopedia: Dismantling the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt aimed at Wikipedia and other free knowledge sources". Free Software Magazine.
  4. ^ a b c Benkler, Yochai; Nissenbaum, Helen (2006). "Commons-based Peer Production and Virtue". The Journal of Political Philosophy. 4. (14): 394–419. Retrieved 22 October 2011.  Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  5. ^ Robert C. Allen (1983): Collective invention. In: Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 4(1), p. 1-24
  6. ^ Ugo Pagallo, Massimo Durante, Three Roads to P2P Systems and Their Impact on Business Practices and Ethics, Journal of Business Ethics, 2010, 90, S4, 551
  7. ^ Benkler, Yochai; Nissenbaum, Helen (2006). "Commons-based Peer Production and Virtue". The Journal of Political Philosophy. 4 (14): 394-419. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
  8. ^ Magrassi, P. (2010). Free and Open-Source Software is not an Emerging Property but Rather the Result of Studied Design" Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Intellectual Capital, Knowledge Management & Organisational Learning, Hong Kong Polytechnic, Nov. 2010

External links[edit]

Category:Economic systems Category:Collaboration Category:Public commons Category:Free software culture and documents Category:Internet culture