The New Knowledge Economy

"Stephen Downes, MuniMall's information architect, will speak to the effects of the Internet-based information communications technologies on society, commerce and governance. The presentation will highlight the transformational consequences and prospects of information and communications technologies with special attention to local government and governance."


  1. The Technology


      1. Downes, 1998 – The Future of Online Learning

      2. http://www.atl.ualberta.ca/downes/future/home.html


    1. Bandwidth – i.e., the amount of information which can be sent

      1. Growing rapidly, essentially unlimited

      2. Choices, choices: cable, fiber, digital wireless, satellite


    1. Processing – i.e., the speed with which computers crunch data

      1. Growing rapidly, essentially unlimited

      2. Moore’s Law


    1. Software – i.e., the things computers do

      1. Gradual transformation from program-based to function-based

      2. Look for specialized machines, embedded processing

      3. See eg. Downes 2000 – Why XHTML? A Pastoral Tale http://www.atl.ualberta.ca/downes/threads/mm9.htm


    1. Hardware – i.e., the box that holds the stuff

      1. Smaller and more portable

      2. Wireless internet access becoming commonplace

      3. Eg. Palm Pilot - http://www.palm.com/


    1. Presentation – i.e., what we see

      1. Convergence of internet and multimedia

      2. Increase in simulations, role-plays, environments

      3. Constant flow of communications

  1. The Impact


    1. Society

      1. Creation of a new social unit, the online community, niche-based or topic-centered – See Figallo, 1998 and Hagel and Armstrong, 1997

      2. Major types of community (Hagel and Armstrong, 1997, p. 121 ff):

          1. Vertical Industry Communities – eg. Municipal Sector

          2. Functional Communities – eg. Logistics Management

          3. Geographic Communities – eg. City of Grande Prairie

          4. Business Category Communities – eg. LGAA

          5. Demographic Communities – eg. Mormons Online

          6. Topical Communities – eg. Oilers Fan Club

      3. Properties of Online Communities:

          1. Fusion of content and interaction

          2. High level of member control and ownership

          3. Customized and personalized – My Netscape

          4. See Downes, 1999b, Selling the WELL http://www.atl.ualberta.ca/downes/threads/column092499.htm

      4. Social Impact:

          1. Withdrawal from traditional communities. Eg. recent NY Times article, see also Rushkoff 1999, Playing the Future

          2. Empowerment of previously disempowered groups (and consequent increased activism) see Klein 2000, No Logo; see also Downes 1999c, Hacking Memes http://www.atl.ualberta.ca/downes/threads/column052599.htm


    1. Commerce

      1. Shattering of commerce - Downes, 1999c, Aspects of E-Commerce http://www.atl.ualberta.ca/downes/threads/column092499.htm

      2. Commerce begins with community – Downes, 1999d, Hungry Minds http://www.atl.ualberta.ca/downes/threads/mm4.htm

      3. Globalization and competition – the need to focus on the niche – See Downes, 2000b, Implications of International Education http://horizon.unc.edu/TS/commentary/2000-05.asp

      4. Commercial Impact:

          1. Expectation of customized and personalized service

          2. Expectation of instant 24-7 service

          3. Pressure and competition, even in previous monopolies

      5. Corporate Impact:

          1. Monopolies don’t work – unable to generate community

          2. The Network Effect – combined impact of many corporations. See Shapiro and Varian 1998, Information Rules

          3. New modes of workplace organization – less hierarchal, more communitarian. See Halal 1998, The Infinite Resource.


    1. Governance

      1. Public Attitudes – Very much in favour – See Downes, 2000c – Public Attitudes Toward Online Government http://www.atl.ualberta.ca/downes/threads/mm6.htm

      2. The Legislative and Representative Function

          1. Increased participation and activism – eg. Arizona Democrat primary

          2. Inclination (with much resistance) toward direct democracy

          3. Primacy of the community

          4. Decline of the middle (reshaping of the role of the middle):

            1. Away from the representative function, and

            2. Toward the service-based and/or informational function

      3. Information and Communication

          1. The community as a community – See Downes, 2000d - Public Spaces, Private Places: Preserving Community Participation on the World Wide Web http://www.atl.ualberta.ca/downes/threads/mm10.htm

          2. Modes of Communication: push vs. pull.

          3. Information overload

      4. Services

          1. Services as E-Commerce – increased expectations

          2. Government (or association) services vs. private sector – competition

            1. Eg. Toronto.com http://www.toronto.com

          3. Government services as a network effect


  1. Keeping Current

    1. Joining or founding a community:

      1. Identify a niche

      2. MuniMall as a municipal sector online community http://www.munimall.net

    2. Information flow

      1. Pull publications, eg. websites and zines; list at http://www.munimall.net/scripts/downes/links/usertrolls.cgi?keyword=government

      2. Even better: email zines; eg. MuniMall newsletter http://www.munimall.net/newsletter - see my list of email pubs at http://www.atl.ualberta.ca/downes/sources.htm

    3. Participation

      1. Joining and contributing to the community discussion board or mailing list


  1. Readings


Figallo, Cliff. 1998. Hosting Web Communities: Building Relationships, Increasing Customer Loyalty, and Maintaining A Competitive Edge. John Wiley & Sons; ISBN: 0471282936.


Hagel, John, and Arthur G. 1997. Armstrong. Net Gain : Expanding Markets Through Virtual Communities. Harvard Business School Press; ISBN: 0875847595.


Halal, William E., ed. 1998. The Infinite Resource : Creating and Leading the Knowledge Enterprise. Jossey-Bass Publishers; ISBN: 0787910155.


Klein, Naomi. 2000. No Logo : Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. Picador USA; ISBN: 0312203438.


Rushkoff, Douglas. 1999. Playing the Future : What We Can Learn from Digital Kids. Riverhead Books; ISBN: 1573227641.


Shapiro, Carl and Hal Varian. 1998. Information Rules : A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy. Harvard Business School Press; ISBN: 087584863X.




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