By guest blogger, Dave Atkins…
Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams’ book Wikinomics is not a book about cities. However, the social changes it describes will have profound effects on cities because they impact how we live and work as well as how businesses perform. Here are five potential implications of the “wiki effect” on cities:
1) The “global plant floor” – distributed manufacturing—will create opportunity for smaller cities and regions. Manufacturers like Boeing are recognizing the value of collaboration and are opening up their design and manufacturing processes to take advantage of global talent. In some cases, this means parts are cheaper to make offshore, but it also creates opportunities in particular cities where entrepreneurs with teams of knowledge workers can seize the opportunity to create component solutions. The key implication for cities and economic development is that it’s no longer about attracting a huge factory to town–it’s more about helping entrepreneurs find their role to play–as part of a globally distributed operation.
2) The “wiki workplace” will connect teams of knowledge workers in different cities. This will allow teams in smaller and satellite cities to connect with larger organizations and projects. Tapscott relates a story of how the President of Best Buy’s “Geek Squad” was concerned that his 20 tech support agents in Anchorage were in danger of being isolated. His director said not to worry, “I talk to them all the time.” The agents were playing Massively Multiplayer Online Games—and in the course of their gaming, talking about work. Even without (or perhaps in spite of) top-level direction, workers find ways to use technology to build connections across geography. In the case of Geek Squad, this allows the small Anchorage team to be a part of the national Best Buy organization, where agents can help each other out informally and share knowledge so agents in smaller cities are not at an information disadvantage to their counterparts in more tech-heavy big cities.
3)“Platforms for participation” will strengthen local action, empowering citizens in smaller cities and towns. A platform is an enabling technology that other users can employ to build a shared application. For example the Google Maps API gives users a platform upon which they can build “mashups’—maps that integrate data from other sources and map the data in interesting ways. Housingmaps.com pulls real estate listings from craigslist and displays the location of the properties on a map. The developer of the website put two existing technologies together to create something new and valuable. In my case, over the weekend, I used the open source community platform software drupal to create a blog for my town. But technology is only half of the equation–you still need a critical mass of local people who find the resulting application relevant and useful. These kinds of participation platforms can be catalysts for local involvement and activism.
4) The city will be an “ideagora” anchor. Tapscott describes how websites that allow people to post problems and solutions are creating “Ideagoras”—marketplaces of ideas. These Ideagoras will allow geographically diverse workers to collaborate outside corporate walls. But it doesn’t work in isolation. People are members of teams, working in companies, but they develop connections outside the company where they trade ideas—sometimes for money, sometimes for fun. This is part of an evolving workplace where knowledge workers are increasingly blending their work and life by pursing their passions. But to do that, in addition to collaboration technology, you need a community of opportunity–real world interactions that inspire you to think of ways to contribute your talents and help you learn. For that, you need a critical mass of people–a city.
5) Young urban people provide the locus of change. Tapscott identifies “Millennials” or “Gen Y” as the “Net Gen.” They grew up with these technologies and are predisposed toward collaboration. Young people are part of the “perfect storm” of change that is going to revolutionize the workplace. The differing generational perspective favors collaboration in cities–example: many people of my generation (X) have long been excited about telecommuting–and the idea that you could line up a well-paying tech job, then do it from a nice, rural location. We did crazy stuff like buy condos 40 miles from the city and then commute for hours, balancing it out by telecommuting a few days a week. But a more typical experience I have with younger workers is that they have their laptop in their messenger bag, or are carrying a Blackberry while they hang out with their friends in the city. They might have lots of side projects going on while they stay connected to work. The new dream is to be able to quickly fix a work problem remotely from a party and then get back to the party, not to work in a bunker in the burbs.
This review was contributed by guest blogger, Dave Atkins… a technologist and urban parent who blogs about issues affecting the creative class and their city lifestyle choices, often focusing on Boston where he now lives (after doing some time in the Bay area).
He has previously blogged about Wikinomics and Wikis: