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Produsage: Necessary Preconditions


The collective and networked approach of produsage is able to draw on four key affordances of the networked technosocial environment within which it exists, each of which profoundly affects and shapes the model of collective content creation which we describe as produsage:

1. Probabilistic, not directed problem-solving:

As Michel Bauwens has put it, "participants have access to holoptism, the ability for any participant to see the whole." This enables the identification of solutions to current problems through probabilistic rather than predetermined approaches: where in a top-down panoptic model, only project leaders have a full overview, and must therefore specifically direct staff to take on required tasks, in the bottom-up holoptic model participants can self-nominate as contributors to specific problem-solving activities as their interest is triggered; the more participants do so, and the more such activities run in parallel at the same time, the more likely it is that a solution is found. The probabilistic approach is thus a direct result of the redrawn boundaries to participation in the networked model as it builds on the greater range of individuals able to participate, and the improved ease of access for such users to the community and its existing content.

2. Equipotentiality, not hierarchy:

Collective project communities assume that each participant has a constructive contribution to make - they operate under a principle of equipotentiality which "means that there is no prior formal filtering for participation, but rather that it is the immediate practice of cooperation which determines the expertise and level of participation. It does not deny 'authority,' but only fixed forced hierarchy, and therefore accepts authority based on expertise, initiation of the project, etc." A hierarchical model of organisation, on the other hand, attempts to identify and assess exactly the set of skills held by an employee, and to deploy each employee at that place in the hierarchy which appears best-suited to their personal attributes. This limits their participation to their specific divisions in the hierarchy, and undermines the potential for random or chance contributions elsewhere.

3. Granular, not composite tasks:

As Yochai Benkler points out, "the number of people who can, in principle, participate in a project is … inversely related to the size of the smallest-scale contribution necessary to produce a usable module." Communal projects crucially rely on the granularity of available tasks: if the project can be divided into individual modules, and if the modules further break down into distinct tasks requiring a limited set of skills and a limited degree of user investment, this boosts both the potential for the development of solutions through probabilistic approaches (as trial-and-error experiments become less costly for participants) and the equipotentiality of contributors (as it becomes easier for all community members to participate). If it is impossible to carry out specific tasks without a thorough and systematic knowledge of the whole project, on the other hand, this would lead the project to continue to require significant administrative overhead and direction.

4. Shared, not owned content:

The sharing of content, contributions, and tasks throughout the networked community is clearly fundamental to the process of collaboration. Such sharing utilises available network means of distribution to facilitate equal access to information, and thereby provides the basis for a granular breakdown of development tasks, the equipotentiality of participation, and the probabilistic approach to the development of solutions. An industrial model of production which relies on ownership and secrecy, and distributes information through the corporate hierarchy only on a need-to-know, top-down, panoptic model is therefore unable to operate effectively in this way.

Operating under the conditions as determined by these technosocial affordances of the network (at least as they exist in many of the networked spaces of the Internet and the Web - not all networks are structured in similar fashion), then, users are able to involve themselves flexibly and fluidly in the tasks confronting the collaborative, 'hive' community; they collaborate not by performing only the monotonous, repetitive, predetermined tasks of the production line, or by contributing fully formed new ideas to the information commons, but instead engage in an ongoing, perpetually unfinished, iterative, and evolutionary process of gradual development of the informational resources shared by the community.

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