Updated: 9/21/2006; 6:19:25 AM.
Innovation, esp. Mass Innovation
Posts discussing innovation, especially "Mass Innovation" aka "Mass Amateurization" aka "decentralized innovation". This is the next step in the evolution from mass production through mass customization. Now the user is empowered to innovate by customizing the offering herself.

Monday, July 18, 2005

A while ago, I posted an entry on the Unitarian Jihad. Well, this being the Web, it's taken on a life of its own. To see what I mean, check out the comprehensive Wikipedia entry on UJ, which describes the UJ as follows:

Unitarian Jihad is a nascent satirical religious/humanist movement which opposes religious extremism of all kinds through peaceful means.

The concept of the Unitarian Jihad originated in a column by writer Jon Carroll which was originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle on April 8, 2005. The column intentionally juxtaposed the Unitarian Universalistfaith and rational discussion with the Islamic concept of (militant) Jihad, and used the conceit of having received an anonymous communique from the then non-existent group.

Note how many different sites mentioned in the entry have sprung up. One of my favorites is the name generator. Here is what it generated for me:

My Unitarian Jihad Name is: Brother Machine Gun of Quiet Reflection. Get yours.

While the spread of the UJ meme is a humorous example, it is nonetheless a powerful demonstration of how the Web enables the emergence of spontaneous order. Let me walk you through it:
  1. I find out about the UJ article from one of the blogs or newsletters I read (I can't remember which).
  2. I bookmark it in Furl: UJ Bookmark.
  3. Several weeks later, I look at my UJ bookmark (long story having to do with looking into my Furl Religion folder for some other search on Unitarianism).
  4. I notice that someone named number-six has also Furled UJ with the following comment: "See: http://homepage.mac.com/whump/ujname.html to get your uj name. More here: http://www.livejournal.com/community/unitarian_jihad/ .
  5. So I go to the UJ page at livejournal.
  6. I am amazed to find over 300 members listed on the UJ community page. I'm even more amazed to find that the community had apparently been created on the same day as the article, April 8, 2005!
  7. From these pages I discover the name generators and the Wikipedia entry
The point of going through this in detail is to give you a flavor of the serendipity of the emergence process. Imagine, just a few months after an article is published an entire community and an rich set of Web resources emerge into being! This is enabled by two "new" aspects of the 2nd Web Generation (aka Web 2.0):
  1. The ability of individuals to easily create new Web resources: content, groups, tools, bookmarks, etc.
  2. The automatic generation of backlinks, e.g., who also linked this page, what pages contain this phrase
These two capabilities are at the heart of the Web's ability to generate spontaneous order.

6:40:35 AM    

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Via slashdot, an interesting new twist on the decentralization, mass innovation, social software them -- Fundable:

Fundable is a new service that lets groups of people pool money for various purposes in what are called "group actions." Similar to an online auction, a group action has its own page, describing how much money will be collected and what the money will do. No participant takes a risk: if the collection for a group action falls short of its target on deadline, all money is refunded.

Fundable's all-or-nothing approach to collecting money lets you participate in a group purchase or fundraiser without worrying about what other people will do. You will either get what you paid for or get your money back.

According to the slashdot article, Fundable has already succeeded in raising funds for OSS development.

Hmmm... I might use this to organize the next Gall Family Reunion. <grin>

5:31:36 AM    

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Nice article in Forbes on Mass Amateurization (seen on Martin Koser's Furl feed). I especially like the quote about the mass amateurization enabled by the Model T:
To be fair, all this amateur energy isn't exactly a new force. When exciting technologies emerge, Americans have always pounced and created something original. In his 1936 New Yorker article "Farewell, My Lovely," E.B. White eulogized the Model T and the creativity it inspired in its owners: "When you bought a Ford, you figured you had a start--a vibrant, spirited framework to which could be screwed an almost limitless assortment of decorative and functional hardware.... Gadget bred gadget. Owners not only bought ready-made gadgets, they invented gadgets to meet special needs." The difference today is simply the technology, says University of Virginia technology historian Bernie Carlson: "I would call it the Ralph Waldo Emerson or Henry David Thoreau theme, that it's as important to produce as it is to consume." Forbes Article Page 2
BTW, it wasn't just the gadgetry that was done by amateurs; the very act of driving was now a mass activity, where chauffeurs had previously been required. Also, according the PBS series A Science Odyssey, the Model T also amateurized automobile maintenance: owners could and did do basic maintenance to their Model T's.

3:45:32 AM    

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Just came across a wonderful new book on user innovation (aka mass innovation) in Virgina Postel's recent article on same (Innovation Moves From the Laboratory to the Bike Trail and the Kitchen). The book is Democratizing Innovation by Eric von Hippel (MIT Sloan School). And of course, it is downloadable for free. As the following passage from the introduction suggests, this is a must read:

When I say that innovation is being democratized, I mean that users of products and services--both firms and individual consumers--are increasingly able to innovate for themselves. User-centered innovation processes offer great advantages over the manufacturer-centric innovation development systems that have been the mainstay of commerce for hundreds of years. Users that innovate can develop exactly what they want, rather than relying on manufacturers to act as their (often very imperfect) agents. Moreover, individual users do not have to develop everything they need on their own: they can benefit from innovations developed and freely shared by others.

The user-centered innovation process just illustrated is in sharp contrast to the traditional model, in which products and services are developed by manufacturers in a closed way, the manufacturers using patents, copyrights, and other protections to prevent imitators from free riding on their innovation investments. In this traditional model, a user's only role is to have needs, which manufacturers then identify and fill by designing and producing new products. The manufacturer-centric model does fit some fields and conditions. However, a growing body of empirical work shows that users are the first to develop many and perhaps most new industrial and consumer products. Further, the contribution of users is growing steadily larger as a result of continuing advances in computer and communications capabilities.

In this book I explain in detail how the emerging process of user-centric, democratized innovation works. I also explain how innovation by users provides a very necessary complement to and feedstock for manufacturer innovation.
[emphasis added]

This notion of users as solely the provider of "needs" or "requirements" pervades the manufacturing and services industries. Yes, users have needs, but the new approach is to give such users the tools they need to easily and affordably customize generic products and services to meet their own needs. By making the user the key designer we transcend the dichotomy between user and maker.

This applies directly to the relationship between the IT organization and the business it serves. ITOs usually do a terrible job of initially meeting the needs and requirements of the business, much less keeping up with them. Instead, the ITO should focus on providing users the open-ended tools for creating their own solutions.

6:08:46 AM    

Saturday, April 16, 2005

I recently realized that not everyone is clued in to one of the hottest (new) blogosphere buzzwords: the Long Tail. The catalyst was this Wired magazine article. The author of the article, Chris Anderson, now has a site devoted to the Long Tail and is writing a book. Here is his brief description: A picture named tail.jpg

The Long Tail is about how the mass market is turning into a million niches. The term refers to the yellow part of the sales chart at left, which shows a standard demand curve that could apply to any industry, from entertainment to services. The vertical axis is sales, the horizontal is products. The red part of the curve is the "hits", which have dominated our commercial decisions to date. The yellow part is the non-hits, or niches, which I argue in the article will prove equally important in the future now that technology has provided efficient ways to give consumers access to them thanks to the "infnite shelf-space effect" of new distribution mechanisms that break thought the bottlenecks of broadcast and traditional bricks and mortar.

The two big points of the Long Tail theory are these: 1) The yellow part potentially extends forever to the right; 2) The area under that line--the market it represents--may become as big as the hits at the left.

The Wikipedia entry on the Long Tail does an excellent job of expanding on this.

The shift from hits to niches is a rich seam, manifest in all sorts of surprising places. This blog is where I'm going to collect everything I can about it.

As the Wikipedia entry on LT emphasizes that it is simply a popular name for a "long-known feature of statistical distributions (Zipf, Power-laws, and/or Pareto distributions)". Accordingly, it applies to various aspects of all phenomena, including software production.

LT is fundamentally based on the dialectic between "convention and invention": when a process becomes very convenient and affordable through commoditization, this enables more unique needs to be met through invention.

A great software example of this that I just ran across is machinima: "a new form of filmmaking that uses computer games technology to shoot films in the virtual reality of a game engine." (See also the Wikipedia definition of machinima.) In this instance, the "convention" is a commoditized "game engine" and the invention is the variety of scenes that individual "artists" create with it. Red vs. Blue (movies created with the Halo engine and images) is the most popular example of machinima, but check out the growing number of examples, including an MTV machinima video at machinima.com.

Mass customization is how large corporations can address the LT, but mass innovation (aka mass amateurization) shifts control from the seller to the buyer: the buyer customizes the product or service without the participation or even the approval of the vendor, cf., the recent NY Times article on the relationship between  Nike and sneakerheads who customize its sneakers. (See also my collection of mass innovation links.)

The most WS-* related example that comes to mind is Greasemonkey: "a platform for running scripts that inject new functionality into web interfaces. If you're a UI designer, this might frighten you. What it means is that any kid with a bright idea and a knack for DHTML can create a new interface for your site, and it will probably be better than yours. (There's a lot of bright kids out there in the world.) Why should you get paid when the bright kids will do your job better for free? The key to survival will be going meta: design for the bright kids. Create a flexible, modular set of APIs and a well-documented example UI or two that shows how they are used. Learn from Amazon and release your grip on the end-user experience. But developments like Greasemonkey disrupt more than just job descriptions: they disrupt business models too. For example, I will never see a Google AdSense ad again, thanks to a handy Greasemonkey script." [Greasemonkey Stole Your Job] Greasemonkey enables anyone to "reprogram" Firefox to filter and transform any and all web interactions ON THE CLIENT SIDE. Now the "look and feel" of a site in no longer in the hands of the site owner, but in the hands of the browser owner or any intermediary.

BTW, my fellow blogger Tom Murphy has a nice link to Long Tail thinking applied to specifically to software.

7:30:48 AM    

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Here's a great example of an emergent use of a web service: spelling words with a font composed of letter pictures from flickr! This was generated by spell with flickr. The HTML in this post actually queries flickr for photos of individual letters. You've got to play with it. Here's my name in pict-o-glyphs:

brick Nbrick CDSC00052oePink AS, with some guy in the background.
\"A\" is for AtlanticYellow LL

Or check out another emergent use, this time of Amazon. It's called Amaztype and it will amaze you. Click on the image below to go to the page running the flash. When you click on a letter, it will magnify and you will see that each letter is composed of book jackets containing the word philosophy in the title! Click on a book jacket to go to its Amazon page. Amazing. Here is the word philosophy:

A picture named Amaztype - Philosophy.jpg

Or check out mappr (maps flickr photos to US Map based on tags). While none of these has a business model, they show the incredible ferment of experimentation of...what to call it...emergent applications, composite content, web content services? Whatever you call it, it signals the birth of new directions in the Web's information space.

1:42:15 AM    

Monday, September 20, 2004

The issue of Mass Amateurization came up in a client discussion. Thought I'd pass along the links and thoughts I'd collected so far. Sorry for the endnotes, but I wrote it for ASCII email.

Here's Clay Sharky's blog posting that (seems to have) first articulated the concept.[1] He had this to say about the amateurization of travel planning:

Mass amateurization is the web's normal pattern. Travelocity doesn't make everyone a travel agent. It undermines the value of being travel agent at all, by fixing the inefficiencies travel agents are paid to overcome one booking at a time. Weblogs fix the inefficiencies traditional publishers are paid to overcome one book at a time, and in a world where publishing is that efficient, it is no longer an activity worth paying for.

Tom Coates then expanded the concept to "(Weblogs and) The Mass Amateurisation of (Nearly) Everything..."[2] For example, he states:

But it's not just publishing or journalism that are going through a process of mass amateurisation at the moment. In fact over the last fifteen years or so pretty much all media creation has started to be deprofessionalised. We only have to look around us to see that this is the case - as individually created media content that originated on the internet has started to infect mass media. Hard-rocking poorly-animated kittens that once roamed e-mail newsletters (http://www.b3ta.com) are now showing up in adverts and credit-sequences, pop-songs written on home computers are reaching the top of the charts, weblog commentators in Iraq are getting columns in the national and international newspapers, music is being hybridised and spliced in the home for competitions on national radio stations. The whole of the mainstream media has started to look towards an undercurrent of individual amateur creation because of the creativity that's bubbling up from this previously unknown swathe of humanity. Mass-amateurisation is EVERYWHERE.

And Ted Leung correctly applies the same concept to open source[3]:

Tom Coates notes that just about everything is becoming amateurised. I think that there are parallels with open source. ... I wish that we could find better terminology. After all, the software running 64% of the web servers on the Internet was written by "amateurs".

Perhaps a better word is semiprofessional: everyone becomes semiprofessional across several professions.

A different perspective on the same phenomenon goes by various names: "hacks"[4], "home hacking"[5][6], and "consumer hacking."[7] As the editor of the O'Reilly "Hacks" series explains[8]:

What happens if you expose the rich mountain of Google data to hackers via a programmatic interface (the Google Web API)? How do you turn a store-front like Amazon's into a syndicated e-commerce engine? (Take a gander at the Amazon Associates program for the answer.)

Think about it. eBay has turned legions into amateur merchants. 40% of eBay's listing come through its Web services APIs[9], of which about 20% are initiated by 3rd parties.[10] Amazon's APIs tell a similar story.[11] The same thing is happening with advertising. Google's AdSense has turned everyone's personal web sites into ad revenue generating machines.[12] All you have to do is insert a sliver of simple HTML boilerplate into your page design (and free up some page real estate), and whenever that page is displayed, Google will automagically post ads that are directly relevant to the content on the page!. For a case study in the airline biz, check out SeatGuru.com. It a favorite of mine because it lets you see the seating configuration for all aircraft models across the major airlines! No more first or last rows! Google even uses the site as a case study.[13]

This ability for consumers to customize their software-driven devices and appliances and even cars is what accounts for the popularity of ring tones ($3 billion business), skinning, and car hacking.

The phenomenon has even been written up in the Wall Street Journal.[14] A related phenomenon, user exchanges, where users exchange their extensions or add ons, has been around for a long time.[15] And here's this month's Communications of the ACM with a special issue on "End User Development" aka "Do it yourself" (DIY) development. [16]

Note, in some ways this mass amateurization trend is nothing new. Note that all managers became amateur "secretaries" when word processing made it possible for everyone to do his or her own typing. Did it eliminate secretaries? No. They went on to do more complex things. It did put a big dent in typing pools though. <grin>

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16]

6:29:58 AM    

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