The public goods of Web 2.0

One thing I’ve been at pains to stress is that Web 2.0 platforms – like Wikipedia, Blogger, Google Search, Google Calendar, Facebook – are public goods. Further, although a core function of government is to build public goods, none of these public goods were built by governments.  To avoid misunderstanding, my point is not that governments should have built them or any other web 2.0 platforms, but to highlight this important new phenomenon of privately built public goods.  (And to pose a question which is what role – if any – government agencies might evolve for themselves to help the growth of such public assets.  In this regard I’m not really thinking of capital G government agencies like the Treasury, but rather agencies like the National Library or the ABC).

In any event, I have one main point I want to make in this post – and a question to ask. The point is that it seems to me on reflection that what we’re looking at is not just an issue with governments, but also with large established organisations.  For if one looks over the panoply of Web 2.0 platforms, not only are government agencies thin on the ground but so are any long established large agencies.  I think that’s true of large established IT companies – not one of them established a Web 2.0 platform (except for those like Google which got big by establishing such platforms and those like Microsoft that imitated or bought Web 2.0 ventures).

I wonder how true this is even of philanthropic enterprises. In any event, I’d be grateful for people’s reflections and any counter-examples.

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timwattsau
timwattsau
11 years ago

I’ve always thought that the Public Good aspect of Web 2.0 communities places them squarely within the tradition of the co-operative movement. In fact, Tom Watson, the former United Kingdom Minister for Transformational Government, has explicitly drawn this parallel, noting in 2007 that:

The 19th century co-operative movements had their roots in people pooling resources to make, buy or distribute physical goods. Modern online communities are the new co-operatives.

I’ve often wondered why you don’t see organisations that operate in this tradition (eg unions, mutual societies) in the Web 2.0 space.

Are RACQ/RACV still mutual societies? If so, you could easily imagine them hosting/facilitating an online community for road users, aggregating data about road conditions, safety issues etc.

davebath
11 years ago

I’m wondering about the time lag between the start of companies that provided power, telecommunications or “public” transport, and the time governments recognized that the general availability of these services was a public good, and furthermore, how long did it take for governments to provide such services?

There is nothing stopping governments, for example, from providing all Australians with a valid email and single authentication point for government services (hell, they could say “Least evil provider of such services, least expensive, and conformant to all Australian law” and buy such a service overnight.

JamesK
JamesK
11 years ago

There just is not enough genuine incentive for innovation or for performance. Government agencies are great at talking the talk about those sorts of things but the lack of accountability means that is little more than that.

Dont mean to sound cynical and bitter…just cynical.

Arch
Arch
11 years ago

@JamesK, the UK gov is coming around to the idea. For example, they have started putting data collected by public agencies here, along with forums and user contributed apps for mining said data. This is much more than just talk