Liquid – do things get done the Benkler way or Kadushian way?

For this week’s blog post, I would like to build on my entry from last week, and see if the online collaboration tool at IBM, Liquid, falls under Benkler’s categorization of Peer Production, or Collective Intelligence; or if it is more in line with Kadushin’s theory of how things get done within networks in an organization.

Benkler, Shaw & Hill take Peer Production to be a subset of Collective Intelligence (p. 1), each having their own distinguishing features:

Peer Production has (p. 3):

  • Decentralized goal setting & task execution
  • Motivations diverse and mostly non-monetary
  • Functions outside the boundaries of firms, contracts and property rights

Collective Intelligence on the other hand has (p. 2):

  • Centralized control of goal setting & task execution
  • Narrower sets of motivations & incentives
  • Functions within boundaries of firms, participants bound by contracts and property rights

Kadushin describes organizations as:

  • Conforming to a system of rules, hierarchies and appointed leaders under ‘rational-legal authority’ system (Kadushin, 2012, p. 106)
  • Consent is given by the subordinate rather than enforced by the leader (p. 91).
  • Network density and betweeness impact information sharing, and give rise to information networks within the formal networks (p. 95)

Since Liquid does not have a formal hierarchy or appointed leaders, it is clear that it doesn’t follow the norm described by Kadushin as typical of networks in organizations. While the tasks setup as ‘events’ in Liquid can be completed by players across teams/lines of businesses, it is more decentralized than the day-to-day work that goes on in immediate teams, but still has centralized goals once an event is initiated between the initiator and player. Motivations are work-related, non-altruistic, and can involve some degree of compensation (depends on the event) over and above regular employment contractual details. The events are guided by formal contracts and property rights. As such, it would appear that Liquid most closely follows Benkler’s categorization of Collective Intelligence.


8 thoughts on “Liquid – do things get done the Benkler way or Kadushian way?

  1. Hi Samina. I wonder, when they first started to roll out Liquid, how did they present it to employees? Was it presented as a new tool that anyone could use, company-wide, or were there specific power-users who were encouraged to participate as much as possible in order to set trends or develop best-practices? If the later was the case, then I think that Kadushin comes into it a bit more, even though it is generally a Benkler-style system. What do you think?

    • Hi Sean… from what I recall, it was announced via mass email… it is definitely a tool that any registered employee can use either to initiate events or complete the work required in it, perhaps to fill time between project . It is possible some people turn to it more than others due to the nature of their roles, which may lead to increased ‘betweeness’ between repeat initiators/players.

  2. Interesting product and idea. This touches on my wiki post and what I mentioned on Gail’s blog about big organizations using peer production to maybe not work together like a totally open wiki but we are big enough to use peer production to work fast together.

    Collaborative consumption within shared tools, a CRM and or web wiki of sorts could be a huge game changer at a large org or business. The social organization of those may take an admin or parts of the hierarchy to manage the framework, but the actions and content may be more open.

    Finally, I don’t get governance, but it’s a real drag it seems on systems like this. Enforcing tools and tasks by process is old-thinking and produces poor results. Can the community patrol and collaborate within itself or will there always need to be strict rules that limit the full potential of the majority to protect the overall “brand” from a few bad apples.


  3. Hey Samina, sounds like Liquid is very much like Holacroacy (I wrote about this in my wiki post). It’s a program you can buy to manage without hierarchy. It’s possible Liquid and Holacracy coevolved to help create a new way to do business to get around the double bind.

    • Thanks for sharing, Rebecca – I will read up on Halocroacy in your post. As we’re seeing with open source and other collaborative initiatives, I bet we will see more and more of these products coming up in the near future.

  4. Samina – nice post. The one thing I’m also curious about is whether Benkler would consider something to be “peer production” if it’s taking place within the context of a formal network or paid employment. My take on it is that the collaboration tool at IBM seems to reflect the attributes of a hybrid model that appeals to a myriad of employee motivational factors; financial may be one of them, but also the need to contribute expertise and assist others. It seems like a really interesting tool in that respect. I guess the real test of a peer production tool is whether it can survive without any financial compensation for members whatsoever. But I think that’s hard to assess unless the tool is being used outside of a workplace setting.

    • Hi Rohit… interesting observation…. Agree that it would be interesting to see if/how this model would survive outside of a workplace setting…. I think it would… but it would just be morphed a little more to have a more altruistic bend to it, somewhat like Wikipedia perhaps.

  5. Pingback: 10 Master Ideas of Social Networks: brought to you by MACT 2013 Cohort! | Tanya's blog about everything

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