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Science and Technology
Work & organisation - social networks, smart mobs, social software, trust, peer production, online spaces, wikis, blogs
New technologies for cooperation and a better understanding of cooperative strategies may create a new capacity for rapid, ad hoc, and distributed decision making.
Summary Analysis:
Within 10 years, a range of nascent technologies and practices may come together in a way that enhances our ability to cooperate in both established and ad hoc groups. Examples of these tools for collective action include:

  • Self-organization mesh networks, which support new ways of creating and managing stocks and flows of information
  • Community computing grids, which model efficient use of resources and solve complex problems
  • Peer production networks, which provide a framework for rapid problem solving
  • Social mobile computing, which builds contextual understanding of problems and dilemmas and fosters trust and group identity in ad hoc situations
  • Social software, which builds trusted networks and networked knowledge bases to enhance sense making, trust, and emergent leadership
  • Social accounting methods, which take advantage of rating, ranking, and referral mechanisms to build trust and provide important management and control levers for leaders
  • Knowledge collectives, which demonstrate structures, rules and practices for managing knowledge as a collectively created common-pool resource

These new technological tools could support the emergence of new markets and spaces for creation of economic value by helping to overcome classic social and psychological obstacles to cooperative action. This could potentially lead to the emergence of new capitalist structures, akin to the development of limited-liability corporations during the early days of capitalism. By eliminating middlemen, and placing creative power in hands of consumers, these tools could facilitate new kinds of trade and commerce.


  • Shift to more informal ad hoc collaborations in organizations
  • Shortening of the innovation and development cycle for new cooperative technologies due to creation of a positive feedback loop
  • Increase in effectiveness of rapid decision making within organizations
  • Increase in effectiveness of online economies relative to offline ones due to effective trust mechanisms

Early Indicators:

  • The advent and rapid spread of wikis and blogs
  • Appropriation of art and media through mash-ups and remixing
  • Formation of clans in massively multiplayer online games

What to Watch:

  • The first Nobel prize in economics is awarded for the study of cooperation in the (online) economy.
  • Fraud levels approach zero in trust-based online trading spaces.
  • New intellectual property regimes based on distributed co-creation gain traction.


  • Development of Japanese automobile production networks
  • Rise of the creative class


  • Increasing broadband penetration
  • Development of advanced mobile devices and wireless data networks
  • Continuing development of software agents


  • Wikipedia (development of a knowledge collective)
  • (creation of a collection of consumer-generated reviews)
  • eBay (creation of a trust-based online trading space)
  • Folding@Home (building a community computing grid that makes use of home computers to perform biomedical research)
  • Creative Commons (creation of a legal infrastucture for knowledge sharing and peer production)
  • Yahoo (acquiried, Flickr, and pursues new uses of social software)
  • Skype Technologies, Luxembourg [link]
  • OhMyNews, South Korea [link]
  • ESRC e-Society Programme, UK [link]
  • Oxford Internet Institute, UK [link]
  • UKOLN Centre, University of Bath, UK [link]
  • eCommerce Innovation Centre, Cardiff University, UK [link]
  • "e-Living: Life in a Digital Europe." EC Fifth Framework IST Programme [link]


  • Robert Axelrod, The Evolution of Cooperation (New York: Basic Books, 1985).
  • "The Power Of Us: Mass Collaboration on the Internet is Shaking up Business," Business Week (June 20 2005) [link]
  • C.K. Prahalad and Venkat Ramaswamy, The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value with Customers (Cambridge: Harvard Business School Press, 2004)
  • Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, 2002. [link]
  • Andrea Saveri, Howard Rheingold, and Kathi Vian, "Rapid Decision Making for Complex Issues: How Technologies of Cooperation Can Help (SR-935)." Palo Alto, CA: Institute for the Future. August 2005.
  • Andrea Saveri, Howard Rheingold, and Kathi Vian, "Towards A New Literacy of Cooperation in Business: Managing Dilemmas in the 21st Century (SR-851A)." Palo Alto, CA: Institute for the Future. June 2004.
  • Eric von Hippel, Democratizing Innovation (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005).
  • Howard Rheingold's own links [link]
  • "Among the Audience." April 20 2006. Economist Survey: New Media [link]
  • "Modern Mass Media, Religion and the Imagination of Communities." University of Amsterdam [link]
  • Foresight project on Cyber Trust and Crime Prevention, UK [link]

At A Glance:
3–10 years
How Fast:

Related Outlooks:

About this outlook: An outlook is an internally consistent, plausible view of the future based on the best expertise available. It is not a prediction of the future. The AT-A-GLANCE ratings suggest the scope, scale, and uncertainty associated with this outlook. Each outlook is also a working document, with contributors adding comments and edits to improve the forecast over time. Please see the revision history for earlier versions.

Posted at Dec 21/2006 11:28AM:
Chris Phoenix:

You might add the Real Time Delphi project:

It is a highly structured but flexible framework for extracting group wisdom. Based on traditional Delphi, but can be done in hours instead of months. The downloadable article linked from the above website has a good explanation of the method--plus some interesting hints toward combining it with AI/natural language processing.

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