by David G. Propson
“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” So said Karl Marx, founder of communism and author of Capital. The authors of Digital Capital would probably amend that to something like “From each according to his distributor relationships, to each according to the going rate on eBay.”
It’s no coincidence that the buzzword “networking” entered the language at the same time computer networks were connecting businesses and people all around the world. Companies, workers, and customers interact in new ways. Partnerships and power structures are reevaluated and often discarded; in two years you may buy your biggest supplier, or be bought. Who knows?
This book is an attempt to find some answers. It’s the result of research begun in 1996 into then-embryonic partnership structures developing due to the Internet, and reads best as a sort of birdwatcher’s guide to the new and strange ways businesses join together on line. They call these “business webs” or (more often) “b-Webs.” They separate them into five different categories: Alliances, Agoras (marketplaces), Aggregators, Value Chains, and Distributive Networks. Thus the book is fairly comprehensive, taking in everything from collective buying programs like Mercata to the MP3-trading-software Napster.
Of course, these labels can also be applied to non-Internet partnerships. The authors don’t explain exactly what all these partnerships have in common, other than the Internet. In other words, what benefits does the Internet tend to bring? Instead of simply describing each category, the authors should have provided comparisons among them.
It’s also not clear who the intended audience is. Those who want to lead new business Webs, and become the next Cisco or eBay? Those functioning as small fish in the new food chain? Or simply interested outsiders?
Most readers will like the book if they can set aside the grand theories and the parade of buzzwords. Among those marshaled are several “internetworking,” for one that are never defined. In fact, the meaning of “digital capital” only becomes clear late in the book: The relationships among a companies, customers, employees, and partners (not to mention partners’ customers and employees), which give a business value and influence in a networked economy.
That would have made a lot of sense to Karl Marx. But would he have shopped on eBay?