Motivation Behind the Peer Production Phenomenon

26 03 2007

Volunteerism “Lives”…. Only Differently

Peer Production as a means of producing knowledge-based products and services is no longer restricted to software development among the open source software crowd. It has become a new experimental product development process that includes “end users” in the entire process of production from ideation, design, development, distribution and even promotion. And the audience with whom this process most appeals are those under the age of 30 and is driven by their desire to volunteer their creativity and knowledge in less traditional structures and cultures.

In recent years, we are learning that the “Bowling Alone” argument (the death of volunteerism) was in fact a reflection of the loss of interest in the old means of “participation.” It wasn’t that people didn’t value volunteering. It was more about how they were permitted to engage. Evidence shows that younger people prefer a different means of engagement that is mostly online and collaborative with a high results-orientation. It is through this “web first” mentality that they then find value holding face to face meetings to further strengthen their relationships.

In 2002, Boston Consulting Group conducted a survey of open source software “hackers” to understand their motivations. The assumption for some time was that they were driven to destroy companies and systems building “proprietary” software like Microsoft and others. The results indicated the opposite.

  • 43% found open source projects “intellectually stimulating” and a chance to “improve their skills”
  • 34% believed code should be open
  • 30% enjoyed doing something outside of work
  • 30% do it for professional status building
  • 11% “beat proprietary software”

When asked to quantify the time spent per week on “volunteer” projects over 50% spent between 1 and 13 hours outside of work.

Growing Up Digital

Don Tapscott’s study on the NetGeneration also helps us appreciate the motivations and cultural differences that fuels the online collaborative explosion across the Internet that has spawned communities, social networks, and self-organized, self-generated content of all types from text to images and audio to video. This generation prizes:

Freedom of Choice – the more options they have the better they like it

Freedom to Customize – the ability to “remix or modify” to create a personal stamp

Intense Scrutiny – ability to examine in depth before investing resources and willing to share their reviews with others

Importance of Integrity – in an era of disruptive change and uncertainty they seek that which they can trust

Collaborative Relationships – most want a “two-way” interactive experience with the brands they choose to associate including how those products and services are designed and produced

Having Fun/Enjoying – the experience of using something is almost as important as the results from the product or service

Speed/Immediacy – time to market and the ability to access something over different platforms

Innovation – the importance of good design as a driver of product value; the desire to work where the culture is dynamic, leading edge, creative, efficient, and modern


We must take heed and examine:

  1. How member value must change to adapt to these needs, expectations and desired outcomes?
  2. How can our process of producing products and services adapt to become more inclusive of the end user to co-create products and services?
  3. What does this mean to our traditions and intangible assets such as our culture/values, leadership development (volunteers and staff), and new competency requirements?

The good news is that the largest generation the world has yet known is very willing and able to contribute their talents. The challenge is to adapt the old ways or risk losing them to the formation of new “associations” of talented professionals whose networks embrace these new ways of being.

In my next post we shall examine Cambrian House from Canada. A company built on the  crowdsourcing (paid content contribution) version of the peer production model that is being innovated by many as you read this.




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