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Throughout the past week the notion of hierarchical and horizontal interactions has come up during class discussion and it is a concept that is the foundation of chapter 3 in Yochai Benkler’s book The Wealth of Networks. What I like about Benkler’s discussion is the ideas are something that we have seen crop up in other classes, such as COMM504 about organizational communications whereby we dissected vertical (hierarchical) vs. horizontal communication within an organizational context. All of us could find relevance in those concepts and apply them directly to our personal and professional lives, giving us a better understanding of why things are being done a certain way, for example, in our workplaces.

Here, Benkler links the idea of hierarchical/vertical interaction to that of “centralization,” meaning that there is a central authority and he then compares it to horizontal interaction or “decentralization” meaning all agents are equal and each person has the same ability to affect the situation as anyone else (p. 62).

Decentralization allows for better collaboration and coordination, especially today when we have what seems to be endless tools that make it easier for us to connect, share and converse. If I apply this to our spring institute right now, I guess we can argue that there is a slight hierarchy in that the professors and the program are dictating many of our actions.

However, solely within this cohort, we as students are working in a very horizontal manner. We’re doing this in ways that are open and accessible to each other by using tools like Twitter (allows for quick and easy messaging), Google Docs (to share documents for editing allowing us to collaborate even when we’re all in separate spaces), PBworks wiki (houses information for class, but is modifiable by anyone in the group) and our blogs (giving each of us the ability to expound upon our thoughts and get feedback from one another).

Benkler also talks about the power of the Web and the fact that using peer production can lead to purposes that were not previously intended. A perfect example for this class is our wiki for COMM506. As a demonstration of how to create a new page on the wiki, our professor, Kate Milberry, added a “Party Page” to the site. It wasn’t intended that it actually be used, but it was never removed from the wiki either. A few in the class then decided to actually use the page to invite the rest of the cohort out to various gatherings and as it turns out, it was a success. Our first pub night of the institute and the majority of the group was able to attend, most having seen the call to action on the wiki.

Therefore, power comes from the tools available to the people and when more people have ease of access to those tools, great things can happen.