Research on the Indian digital domain is still a work in progress. A starting point for any analysis lies in surveying existing literature.
With books galore, analysis of the digital domain is fascinating. Few books have an objective of implicit or explicit business promotion; some other books mount severe attack on the changes destroying the conventional business structures.
A line of thinking also points to a manifestation of Schumpeterian creative destruction yet there are observers who feel the worst dreams of Hobbes are coming true necessitating a new Leviathan. In certain quarters, the panorama of dismantling the orthodox ecosystem signals Marxian prophesies turning into reality.
Geographically, the context is American or Euro centric. As one leading Indian academic and digital scholar mentioned to this author couple of years back, the challenge for Indian researchers is to contextualize the phenomenon in a South Asian framework. Research on the Indian digital domain is still a work in progress. A starting point for any analysis lies in a survey of existing literature.
A number of books have been written by industry captains, practitioners, consultants and other insiders. From Bill Gates’ Business at Speed of Thought to Eric Schmidt’s ‘The New Digital Age’, a number of books have been written by industry captains and practitioners laying out their line of thought, linking at times covertly to the success of their organizations.
Consultants, business insiders and academics have visualized the reshaping of the business terrain in multiple ways. Blown to Bits (breakdown of richness-reach trade-off deconstructs and disintermediates traditional industry value chains), Wikinomics and its sequel Macrowikinomics (emergence of networked intelligence order premised on the principles of collaboration, openness, sharing, integrity and interdependence), Big Switch (portrays trajectory of cloud computing using historical parallels), Power of Pull (transition of push driven order to pull driven architecture from surfing to SAP centered on the forces of access, attract and achieve), Attention Economy (attention as scarce commodity and challenges for attention deprived firms), Wired for Innovation (technology generates exponential increasing returns necessitating new organization forms) to name a few, present varied insights on the digital vista.
Considerable literature is devoted to emergence of new business models. Long Tail (platforms like Amazon and Netflix leverage negligible marginal inventory and search costs offering fresh lease of life to ‘Tail’ hitherto ignored under Pareto driven business models), Free (shift to a profit maximization model equating marginal revenue to marginal utility rather than marginal costs), The Penguin and the Leviathan (examples from conservation in Spanish irrigation districts to Toyota’s NUMMI plant in US, suggest cooperation as the new business model – takes off where Elinor Ostrom left), The Wisdom of Crowds (collective intelligence framework modeled on Google Page Rank Algorithm is the new mantra), Open Business Models, Open Innovation (high R&D costs, shrinking shelf life compelling firms from IBM to Proctor and Gamble open up their innovation systems through licensing spin-offs, purchases etc.) Open Services Innovation (positioning shifts in products and services to avoid commoditization), Source of Innovation (users increasingly turning innovators resulting in ‘prosumer’), Big Data (a primer on transformative potential of Big Data driven business models) gives a flavor of shifting value propositions.
Explanations for the shifting undercurrents are equally multifaceted. Remix (shift from Read-Oral Culture to Read-Write Culture; co-existence of both monetary driven commercial economies like Amazon, and non monetary driven sharing economies like Wikipedia besides the rise of hybrid economies- monetizing sharing economies e.g. Facebook etc), Wealth of Networks (perceptibly the most influential, shift from industrial information to networked information economy, lumpy, mid-granular connected device as input, human meaning and communication as output, examples ranging from protein@fold, Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), among others, the outcome being sharing as modality of production and mainstreaming non-market production), Cognitive Surplus (increased leisure allows people to contribute towards creative pursuits like geeks’ contribution to open source hardware projects on Aurdino or user driven innovation life surfing, mountain biking etc), Democratizing Innovation (motivations like reputation, insufficient incentives for commercialization, positive feedback loops, heterogeneity of need etc. drive consumer innovation) Knockoff Economy (evidence from industries from fashion to football suggest imitation spurs innovation), Pirates Dilemma (piracy essential to restructure and revitalize capitalism) seek to build theoretical foundations for the digital era.
Biographical sketches and critiques of firms too are available in plenty. Important readings include among others The Search (Google as disruptor of the era of analog business), Good Faith Collaboration (understanding Wikipedia), Facebook Effect( examining the success of Facebook), Synthetic Worlds ( analysis of the online gaming industry), Biopunk (exploring the life and times in DIY biology),and The Cathedral and the Bazaar (emergence of open source software).
Books like The Master Switch (surveying the information empires from Western Union to Apple and Google, argues Schumpeterian destruction and subsequent monopoly is the norm, current ecology is the battle between Google driven open environment vs. Apple driven appliancized models), The Googlization of Everything (a strong critique of Google’s monopoly and its likely after effects) among others caution against possible monopolies in the digital era.
Literature on intellectual property is myriad with diverse points of view. Piracy: Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates (historical sweep of intellectual property battles from the days of Gutenberg), Digital Copyright (sharp critique of copyright laws and enforcement), How to Fix Copyright (stresses need to adopt copyright to underlying market shifts rather than the other way round), Information Feudalism (sharp critique of the negotiations leading to TRIPS agreement at WTO), Biobazaar (examining the possibility of open source biotechnology as an alternative to counter monopoly in pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry) are few readings which come to the mind.
Externalities including privacy, surveillance issues, spam, piracy, fraud, online black markets, cyber terrorism and cyber-warfare have received treatment by many authors. The Future of Internet (perceptibly influential- suggests the basic foundation of generative internet giving way to applicianized sterile devices like iPhone and others, thanks to proliferation of spam and online fraud an outcome of tradeoff between open internet susceptible to hacking, fraud, spam etc and walled gardens offering cyber security), The Future of Reputation, Delete (both examine privacy issues arising out of internet’s ability to ‘remember’ permanently thus eliminating ‘right to forget or delete’), Black Code ( malignant forces from worms to fraudsters threatening the ecosystem developed on shared knowledge and communication), Liars and Outliers (societal pressures unable to contain norm violators with ramifications for the digital ecosystem), Free Ride (threats online piracy poses to established business), The Cult of Amateur (strong critique of the online cultures), The Net Delusion (caution against cyber-utopianism, possibility of online technologies breeding increased consumerism, citizens converting into ‘robotic pawns’ susceptible to state manipulation), Code and other Laws of Cyberspace (pioneering piece which along with Free Culture critiques information industries particularly music: argues excessive IP laws cause piracy), in their own different ways underscore the hazards in navigating the digital ecology.
Intersections of social media, politics and society has resulted in number of books including Consent of the Networked (attempt to evolve principles and policy measures governing participation digital space in terms of political and social activism), Access Denied, Access Controlled, Access Contested (series of books documenting the cyber freedom, state suppression of online dissent across countries), Networks and States (pioneering effort in documenting internet governance scene across the world) among others.
The current survey is just illustrative and does not attempt to make value judgments of the points of view emerging in these books nor reflect the author’s agreement or otherwise with the contents of these books. Irrespective of ideological anchor, these books chronicle and elucidate the digital habitat. For this reason alone, these books merit serious examination and later contextualization to Indian ecosystem.
(Readers are invited to send in their suggestions on books which they feel should have made the list but omitted in the current piece)
Prashant Kulkarni teaches economics, a digital economy and globalization at a leading B-School. His area of interest lies in dissecting resource contestations and human behavior at the intersections of digitization, urbanization and globalization.
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