A side effect of COVID-19 is a booming collaborative society

Dariusz Jemielniak
Berkman Klein Center Collection
4 min readMar 20, 2020

As I am writing these words on the first day of my daughter’s school lockdown, unable to see my family, including my 93-year old grandma back in Europe in person, and uncertain about the future, I really want to look for the light at the end of the tunnel and seek positives, unlikely as they may seem.

By Wing-Chi Poon — Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4503578

This is not to treat the situation lightly. The current pandemic is unprecedented in modern times, and it will likely wreak havoc for many of us and it has already taken or permanently impacted the lives and health of too many. COVID-19 will likely bankrupt more people than it will kill, and it will have a significant impact on businesses, the economy and the stock market.

Yet, while not diminishing these horrible outcomes, it may also be worthwhile to think about how we can unite, rise up to the challenge and return stronger. COVID-19’s strike has led to a rapid acceleration of peer collaboration online. We can observe:

An increasingly recurring phenomenon of emergent and enduring cooperative groups, whose members have developed particular patterns of relationships through technology-mediated cooperation.

The pandemic is speeding up a process of digitizing our work and private relations enormously.

Remember Wikipedia? The largest social movement in humankind history, the fifth most popular website on Earth, and arguably the coolest encyclopedia in the Universe, which is going to turn 20 next year? The bane of the professoriate, we should learn to love? Even though the peer production movement, which Wikipedia, as well as open-source, are good examples of, have not revolutionized capitalism, as early researchers of the phenomenon hoped, it has proved beyond any doubt that computer-supported cooperative work can bring results on par with the paid professional outcomes. The way scientists are cooperating in fighting COVID-19 is drawing from early learnings from open collaboration communities, such as Wikipedia. The current pandemic may serve as a tipping point in the revolution of collaborative discovery and decentralized science.

Dariusz Jemielniak
Berkman Klein Center Collection

Prof of Management at Kozminski University, author of “Common Knowledge? An Ethnography of Wikipedia” (2014 Stanford UniPress), WikimediaFoundation Board member