Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tragedy of (Not Having) the Commons

by Whitney Coble

I find the subject of crowdsourcing fascinating.  For this week's blog, I am going to explore a couple of the ideas outlined in Wired Magazine's "In the Next Industrial Revolution, Atoms are the New Bits."  Specifically, I am going to focus on the concept behind Creative Commons licensing and the way in which some of the principles in the article are being played out in Pittsburgh.

Creative Commons licensing

In the article, customers make their own components of the Rally Fighter, which they can sell to peers, using a Creative Commons license.  These licenses provide a standardized way for a creator to share creative work with the public on conditions of his/her choice.  Instead of the traditional "all rights reserved," the creator can choose "some rights reserved."  For example, someone could choose to allow only noncommercial uses of their work. CC licenses are not an alternative to copyright, instead they are a supplement.  Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that designed these licenses to increase access to creative material and knowledge while still protecting the rights of the creator.  The first set of copyright licenses were released for free to the public in December 2002. (http:creative commons.org/about/)

The next phase of transformative change

Local Motors facilitated design through community.  The following quote particularly stood out to me: "Transformative change happens when industries democratize, when they're ripped from the sole domain of companies, governments, and other institutions and handed over to regular folks."  There are some indications that this kind of environment is being created in pockets of Pittsburgh.  

For example, in June 2012, the Post-Gazette published an article about a workshop that is being established in Pittsburgh, called the TechShop.  The TechShop is a do-it-yourself manufacturing workshop based in Menlo Park, California.  Its location in Pittsburgh will be funded by a $3.5 million investment from the Department of Defense, which will use the workshop at night for ultra secretive technology development.  "Members range from people who simply use the facilities to make gifts for family members to entrepreneurs who create and test products.  All of them share one thing in common: They want to build without dropping tens of thousands of dollars for equipment."

I love the idea of removing traditional barriers - like access to manufacturing equipment or stodgy copyright laws - and empowering normal people to become innovators.  

In what other businesses/industries in Pittsburgh could this mindset be utilized?  For more inspiration, check out this video about Threadless, a community-driven innovation model: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGcCANuL6ks.

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