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Commons-based peer production (Wikipedia) is a term coined by Harvard Law School professor Yochai Benkler. It describes a new model of socio-economic production in which the labor of large numbers of people is coordinated (usually with the aid of the Internet) mostly without traditional hierarchical organization. Benkler contrasts commons-based peer production with firm production, in which tasks are delegated based on a central decision-making process, and market-based production, in which allocating different prices to different tasks serves as an incentive to anyone interested in performing a task.

Peer production enterprises have two primary advantages over both markets and firm hierarchies:

  1. Information gain: Peer production allows individuals to self-identify for tasks that suit them. Many individuals can generate more dynamic information which reflects individual skills and the "variability of human creativity."
  2. Great variability of human and information resources: leads to substantial increasing returns to scale to the number of people, and resources and projects that may be accomplished without need for a contract or other factor permitting the proper use of the resource for a project.

Aaron Krowne offers another definition:

"commons-based peer production refers to any coordinated, (chiefly) internet-based effort whereby volunteers contribute project components, and there exists some process to combine them to produce a unified intellectual work. CBPP covers many different types of intellectual output, from software to libraries of quantitative data to human-readable documents (manuals, books, encyclopedias, reviews, blogs, periodicals, and more)."

CBPP, while not the only one, is the typical production model in free knowledge communities. Note that contributions made in CBPP are commons-based and generally non-monetary, while the same contributors may be able to earn an income by providing their services in the market. The case of Free Software is illustrative of this, where developers contribute voluntarily in the community and then (many of them) sell their services to customers who demand skilled people in the particular Free Software.


Examples of projects using commons-based peer production include:

  • Linux, a computer operating system kernel
  • GNU, a computer operating system generally used in conjunction with the kernel Linux
  • Slashdot, a news and announcements website
  • Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia
  • Distributed Proofreaders, which proof reads public domain etexts for publication on Project Gutenberg
  • SETI@home, a project which searches for extra terrestrial life
  • Kuro5hin, a discussion site for technology and culture
  • Clickworkers, a citizen science program
  • Sourceforge, a software development organization
  • RepRap Project, a project to create an open-source self-copying 3D printer.
  • Pirate Bay, a shared index of bittorrents (under legal scrutiny in Sweden as of February 2009)
  • OpenStreetMap, a free map of the world
  • Appropedia, a project for development of open-source-appropriate technology
  • Wikiprogress, a project for collecting information and data on measuring the progress of societies
  • Ushahidi, crowdsourced maps
  • GROWL, a degrowth education network producing open materials and curricula

External links