Collaborative Production

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Mathieu O'Neil:

"Although we refer in shorthand to “Collaborative Production”, in fact, speaking of Open Informational Peer to peer Production might be more appropriated.

These four are the minimum terms which define the features of the modalities described by the above mentioned concepts. By analyzing them, we will have an operational definition of the phenomenon, based on the contributions of the above mentioned authors.

a) Production:

Three issues regarding the term production.

i) When talking about collaborative production we are not concerned with the distribution, exchange or consumption phenomena, but with the -original or not- creation, generation, production which takes shape through a set of specific organizational forms. This implies, in order to use a common expression from the intellectual property world, the existence of a certain level of inventive activity (OECD, 2007:18) which distinguish the production from the mere copy or spread of a certain piece of knowledge. Naturally, the boundary of this distinction can be very variable.

ii) In order to speak of collaborative production is a necessary condition that the process endures over time, thus not being based on casual interactions. (Vercelli, 2006:56). This does not mean that every single contributor must have a long commitment to a specific project, but that the productive process as a whole has a certain diachronic durationvii.

iii) Moreover, the result of the production, the output, has the distinctive feature of being consumed or used by the same networks which produce it. The producers are, at the same time, consumers or users of the goods they produce. They are prosumers, according to Toffler´s expression (1981) which was developed then by Tapscott and Williams (2005: 191)

b) Informational:

Three points have to be remarked here.

i) We are not referring here to the production of any good or service but only to a particular kind of goods: primary informational goods or, simply, to flows of digital information. Although, this is extremely important, many papers forget to point it out. All the other features of collaborative production -the non-hierarchical organization, using inputs which are not subject to proprietary exclusion, the also shared nature of the outputs- have existed from the origins of humanity and, of course, they still remain. The real novelty arises from combining some ancestral, although marginal organizational forms, with the distinctive features of informational goods.

ii) But this informational production has the Internet as an assembly line. It is not a production just relying on any digital network, but on a very specific one based on TCP/ IP, WWW, etc. In this regard, there is a requirement: the digital information flows in the collaborative production must be widely available. They must be “published”- according to OCDE (2007) - on any website; the exchange of bits should not occur trough closed.More specifically, it is necessary for collaborating individuals to have a shared platform. In addition to one or a set of websites, a number of tools of software and a base language have to be shared among the developers development of informational goods.

iii) The informational nature of production –informational goods produced via the Internet is the base of two critical organizational features of collaborative production: “modularity” and “granularity” according to Benkler (2005:112). Both are referred to breaking down the production in minimal fragments which allow the prosumer add microscopic quantities of knowledge. This, in effect, is both due to the possibilities of distribution and coordination of the Internet and the discrete nature of digital information which can be broken down to levels which are not possible with other forms of knowledge.

c) Peer to peer:

The adjective “collaborative” is, at least, vague. Actually, if there is one only point on what the whole social sciences books agree, it might be the “collaborative” nature of any human production. Now, this collaboration can be immediate or not, face to face or not, forced or not, capitalist or not, contractual or not, paid or unpaid, can include individual or collective agents, etc. The concept of “peer to peer” is more specific because it means that collaborators tend to have the same status regarding their roles in the productive process. However, this is not enough.

i) Although we refer here to organizational schemes in which, indeed, there is a trend towards horizontality, in all cases there is a certain hierarchyviii. In some cases, the structure appears as a truncated pyramid, with different kinds of administrators, moderators, editors on the top. Thus, some individuals who, based on their own merits, are recognized by the network of prosumers, are engaged in roles of coordination, selection and edition of digital information flows (Vidal, 2000: 57). In other cases, there is a genuine quasihorizontal network of collaborating producers and a single transcendent agent who centralizes a set of functions and information. This is the case of collaborative production driven by capitalist business structures, as we´ll discuss below.

ii) Moreover, an important feature of the collaborative production is that the producing peers don´t belong to the same company or institution. This means that the informational goods production takes place either out of the work time or by actors belonging to different companies or structures. Otherwise –if prosumers are paid by the same company or belong to the same state institution, for example-, we are not facing about Collaborative Production but instead a network firm, a different and well known organizational form. So, according to OECD (2007), collaborative production is usually amateur.

iii) In this sense, peers who produce, agents who collaborate, do so on their own independent choice (Benkler, 2005). In other words, in contrast to other organizational forms, in this case –whether being a capitalist production or not-, there is no entity capable of limiting the number of prosumers. Whether existing a superior instance over de peer collaboration or not, any knowledge flow which could be involved in the productive process cannot be excluded ex ante.

d) Open:

At this point we must take into account the legal characteristics of both inputs and outputs which circulate in these processes we analyze.

i) First, distinguishing inputs from outputs is important. The latter are entirely made of digital information while the formers are only partially so. A share of the inputs of collaborative production come from digital technologies -netbooks, cell phones, cameras, musical instruments, etc.-, some skills, and certain amount of energy. This is important because these resources are often not publicly owned. Instead, some of the inputs which are digital information themselves are usually free, being under Creative Commons licenses, GPL or other. However, it is not true that all these informational inputs are free. The software running Facebook or Wikipedia –in order to mention one capitalistic example and other which is not- are not available to be modified or copied. In this regard, we must be cautious when talking about productive process inputs.

ii) On the contrary, the nature of the outputs can be easily defined. Informational goods which are produced in the collaborative production are open access: they can be copied and modified without excessive restrictions. Anyway, different legal forms are involved here. In some cases, the goods are licensed under the aforementioned Creative Commons or GPL. This is the case of content from Wikipedia or Free Software. In other cases, the informational goods have ambiguous situations regarding to their intellectual property status, like Flickr photos, YouTube videos, music of My Space or Second Life objects. It should be noted that the problems of the latter situations do not arise primarily from violation of copyright of third parties but, instead, from the lack of recognition of the authorship of the prosumers." (

Typolog 1y

Public Non-State Collaborative Production

Mathieu O'Neil:

"The Public Non-State Collaborative Production is strictly non-commercial. That is, in this modality, none of the involved actors are seeking to obtain merchandises as a result of the productive process. Thus, the reason for joining those processes is partially given by their efficiency, but largely by a set of values related to the “cooperation”, “free knowledge” and similar ideas. Additionally and usually, there is a consummatory or intrinsic motivation encouraging the prosumers, this is, actors get some kind of self-fulfillment through productive activity itself (Lakhani and Wolf, 2005; Hertel, Niedner, and Herrmann, 2003). Another relevant feature is that prosumers barely depend on a particular platform and, in some cases, they are able to create those platforms themselves. Finally, it should be noted that this kind of collaboration takes place in a public sphere that, however, has no relation with the state."

Mixed Collaborative Production

"The capitalist firm begins to play a role here. ... A team, which developed and “released” the Linux code, was created by IBM. The insertion of a capitalist firm - and not one precisely beloved by programmers of Linux-, in forums, and other repositories deserved a careful plan to gain the confidence of the so-called Linux “community”. ... a decisive aspect for this second form of collaborative production to emerge was that the IBM got integrated without significantly affecting the previous organization of the productive process.

In practice, the ideal types of “capitalist company” and “non-capitalist producers” take no pure shape but are combined in various ways. Unlike what happened in Non- Capitalist Collaborative Production, many of the individuals who don´t produce for a firm, neither do it by pure self-satisfaction or ideological reasons. Here, prosumers estimate that producing free software will allow them to acquire knowledge that will be useful in their careers, building a reputation or working on technical assistance and consultancies, etc. Others –or even the same actors above mentioned- are motivated by the usefulness they obtain from the tools they produce themselves by free software. And conversely: many of the actors who produce under company control are deeply involved with certain values of the collaborative production as individualsxxii. However, the business and the individuals perspectives must be distinguished here. By definition, a company has always an instrumental and commercial orientation, but their employees not necessarily.

Summarizing, there are two ideal types of agents in this second form, the Mixed Collaborative Production. On one hand, some individual and collective prosumers who are not commodities producers. On the other hand, others –usually companies but also individuals who produce their own developments- who do enter into the production process clearly in order to obtain inputs for their own capitalist processes. Nevertheless, the specificity of this second type is that the capitalist enterprise intervention does not affect the rules of the production process. Firms, big or little ones, place the same status as other actors in organizational terms. They have neither decisional power over the whole process nor control of key knowledge. Moreover, other actors do not depend on the company to develop the process. If the firm gets out of the process, production will keep on without major changes. The capitalist enterprise plays a somewhat immanent role in collaborative production."

Capitalist Collaborative Production

Mathieu O'Neil:

"In contrast to the latter form, the most salient feature of Capitalist Collaborative Production is being governed by one or several companies, having control of the platform which enables collaboration. This third modality characterizes almost all the so-called Web 2.0 (Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, etc.) but also appears as a complementary modality in pioneer sites (EBay, Amazon). An illustrative case of this operation is Second Life, just like Ariel Vercelli studied it (2009, Chapter 5).


Both the commercial and recreational users depend on the guidelines set by the company. Specifically, to contact other users, whether to make friends or to look for buyers, the prosumers must pass through the platform ruled by Linden Lab. In fact, the monetization of Second Life by allowing prosumers to sell the fruits of their labour emerges from the intellectual property rules which Linden Lab establishes for its world. The proprietary nature of the “residents” is used as an effective advertising tactic to attract users.


Although the power of the company controlling the platform is all-embracing, the productive scheme requires attracting the two other types of actors, moreover, requires that these agents produce contents. In order to do that, companies act like benevolent dictators which conceal their power as much as possible. Indeed, in order to keep the efficiency of the production process, it must look like a pure peer to peer collaboration. In the eyes of prosumers, corporate control of the platform, of the data and of the production process itself has to be diluted in the silent usualness of the digital landscape.

Capitalist Collaborative Production has been, then, exemplified. Here, as in the Mixed Collaborative Production, companies which take part of the production process for profit and prosumers who have no commercial interests coexist. However, in the model that we have been analyzing here three typical productive agents are often present - not only two as in the case of mixed production. First, non-commercial prosumers. There is nothing new about them. These are the same actors seen in the two previous modalities and which show up in any collaborative production form. Secondly, commercial prosumers which have the same status as the other prosumers in the production process. They have nearly the same power as them and must obey the same rules. Although they look like the companies which participated in the Mixed Collaborative Production, there is a great difference. Following the same example, when a team of IBM got integrated to the networks of Linux producers, this team was actually interested in what both kinds of agents collectively produced. IBM wanted digital information flows produced by developers, paid or unpaid ones. In contrast, commercial producers of Second Life have no interest in what users produce in the virtual environment and companies which are advertised on Facebook have no interest about the photos of their “friends”. These companies aim to capture flows of attention of those non-commercial producers /users, to integrate their recognition networks, or directly, to sell them a product. To put it simpler, in the mixed collaborative production, the commercial producers look for interactions with non-commercial producers in order to access to their informational goods. This is, commercial producers were interested in users as producers. By contrast, in the capitalist collaborative production, commercial producers are interested in other users only as consumers.

However, the key agent of this productive modality is a third kind of agent which radically changes the organization of the production process by completely handling the process. This is another type of capitalist enterprise which now plays a transcendent role. First of all, the collaboration platform is controlled by it. And through the platform, it contains all the information related to prosumers, manages digital flows which are no available to users, owns the trademarks which bring together producers, etc. Thus, the only way of the other two types of agents to produce in this modality is through the capitalist enterprise. But, in order to keep functioning the collaborative production modality, the controlling company needs to look like the silent stage, the neutral environment of the productive theater." (

Statist Collaborative Production

Mathieu O'Neil:

"So far, we have discussed two forms of collaborative production which relatively tend to the horizontal organization (non-capitalist collaborative production and the mixed one) and one form in which a particular kind of agent centralizes the power over the reticular collaborative process (capitalist collaborative production). Nevertheless, an organizational scheme as the latter not necessarily ought to be commanded by a commercial firm. The main candidate to play this non-commercial centralization role is the State.


A first interesting case is Peer to Patent, a website which cooperates with the U.S. Patent office (USPTO)."


The second example is British, related to the health system and extremely easy. is a website which allows to produce collaboratively opinions about different hospitals, health centers, hospices and doctors in the United Kingdom and in the National Health System (NHS). Here again, we face a collaborative production process in which the platform and some key data are managed by the state or an institution which depends on it. Nevertheless, unlike Peer to Patent, in Patient Opinion producers are actually consumers.


Summarizing, in order to conceptualize the ideal type of State collaborative production, the features of the different given examples have to be abstracted. In spite of being a poorly developed form yet, it seems reasonable to assume that it might grow in the immediate future. There are two productive agents here: above-mentioned producers / users and state agents who operate the centralized platform. Although companies might be part of the group of producers, that is not a norm in this form. The decisive factor here is that, ultimately, regulation of information flows and, more specifically, the possibility of using them as critical inputs for their own production process, is in the hand of state institutions -which could be municipal, regional, national or international." (

Typology 2

David de Ugarte:

"Services of collaborative production allow people and small organizations to share spaces, tools and skills in the development of products, services or commercial artwork.

  • Co-Working. At the most basic level, sharing work space. Like other services, it began as a spontaneous form of collaboration between freelancers — who were building an environment and relationships — and businesses that were optimizing the use of office space and were building relationships. Soon, it made the leap to a real-estate business: everywhere, investors appeared who outfitted workspaces to share and added stimulus programs to facilitate networking and, in some cases, even help in the incubation of business ideas.

  • Co-Design and Co-Creation. Platforms like “Sensorica” create spaces and provide tools for discussion and industrial design to different professionals who collaborate on the design and development of a product and finally participate of the results of its sale. A similar format has been explored by musicians and other artists, with platforms like “Red Panal.”

  • Co-Financing. Surely the most transformative facet of the “sharing economy.” If “Kiva” let thousands of people finance microenterprises in poverty zones with minimal management costs, “Kickstarter” allowed for the financing of projects of direct economy without their promoters having to commit to surrendering ownership. In fact, the “crowdfunding” model turns purchasing in advance and symbolic support into an alternative to funding as such through capital investment or a loan."



Centralized Control of the Platform?



Participation of enterprises?


Capitalist Collaborative Production(Second Life, Facebook)

Mixed Collaborative Production(IBM+Linux, Red Hat)


Statist Collaborative Production(Peer-to-Patent, Patient Opinion, E-petition)

Public Non-state Collaborative Production(Origin of Linux, Wikipedia)