Friday 28 September 2012

Is crowd-sourcing really a crowd pleaser?

Welcome to the 21st century, an age of collaborative working, coworking, crowd-funding, crowd-publishing, a new dawn of communistic creation, an open source world of limitless opportunity. Or is it.

In 1991 a young Finnish student studying in the US released the kernel of a computer operating system that came to be know as linux. Since then it has become the world's largest open-source project. Thousands upon thousands of coders, testers, translators and graphic artists have worked together to create an computer operating system to rival Windows and OS X. Unfortunately, what we now have are hundreds of operating systems that for one reason or another have not even managed to replace each other, much less Windows or OS X.

Maybe the second largest example of people power, Wikipedia, is an incredible accomplishment of crowd-sourcing knowledge, yet were you to cite it in an academic paper you would be laughed out of the classroom. Wikipedia itself discourages the citing of its articles and is well aware of the flaws in its content.

Then there is my personal favourite, democracy. Everybody gets the chance to chose the people who they will blame for messing up the country and the economy for the next 4-5 years. For the most part their decisions are based on family loyalties, class bias or worst of all, the media. Making an informed political decision is just about impossible.

Just imagine, and I know, that some actually exist, a school where pupils have equal say in the syllabusand the running of the school. A family where the kids get to tell Dad what to do. Some of these ideas of egalitarian rule may make you cringe or tingle with joy but it is obvious that some institutions and domestic groups should have clear leadership.

So obviously, according to me, open-source, crowd-sourcing and collaborative projects are a complete waste of time.

cool but confused
Well no. There are some problems with people-power but most of them can be addressed. And indeed many already have. In October 2004 yet another linux distro was launched, Ubuntu. Ubuntu, its name means a philosophy of humanistic interdependence in a Bantu language of Southern Africa, was established by Mark Shuttleworth, a British/South African entrepreneur. Ubuntu gained market share year on year with some netbooks coming preloaded, even Dell and Samsung released a range of linux machines. The commune coders were gaining ground, even on OS X.

Then, Google picked up linux as a base for for their Android OS and now Linux is on more smart phones than windows mobile or iOS. The first android handset was released in 2008 and two years later it was the leading smart phone platform. Still open-source, still user developed but managed. Just like a strong headmaster nurtures a productive school or a strong Dad, or Mum, will head a confident and happy family. And maybe there is the key.

Apple produces more desirable things than Dolce & Gabbana, Jimmy Choo or Aston Martin (in the case of the last example I must express passionate personal disagreement) and have the most valuable stock in the history of money. Yet, the iPhone is so closed-source you can't even change the battery. Jobs famously didn't listen to many people, he refused to use focus groups because he couldn't trust public opinion and his idea of public product appraisal was taking the thing home for a few weeks.

You WILL buy my brilliance!
In order to achieve innovation, true, brilliant game-changing innovation you need leadership, blind autocratic leadership. If you put a hundred really smart people in a field they will run around in a hundred directions with one's smartness cancelling out another's. Linux is perfect proof of this. The total being much less than the sum of its parts. Ubuntu is an awesome OS and so are so many other linux distros, linuxmint and Fedora to name just two. They look great, boot fast and programs are just a couple of clicks from installation, not to mention the safety of being behind an environment that has few known predators which allows you to click merrily on links and open emails that would make you shiver with fear in a windows environment. The thing is that every so often things just don't work. Hardware won't play ball, web services lag or jitter. This is because there is no-one to drag someone into their office and say “Make it F@#king happen, or else!” According to reports, Jobs would fire people in the lift if they simply annoyed him.

Vision is a great and valuable quality but production and development comes from action, hard work and direction. If you want to get somewhere, you must first decide who's driving then get behind them and pedal your heart out.

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