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By 6 May 2009 | Categories: feature articles

     
 
  The Internet is putting the power to choose, and create, back in the hands of the public. Andrew Gould looks at how the old is making way for the new.
 

In the not-so-distant past the producers of products and services had 100% of the control as to what was delivered and by which channels, to the buying public. But never before have customers and users of technology had so much power to influence what they buy, read and watch than now, thanks to the Internet. We have become the decision makers, giving guidance to the producers and telling them what we want.

The public making the decisions

Examples of the voice of the public influencing producers can be seen everywhere. Bloggers and forum users get to have their own slice of the mass media pie. Anyone with a cellphone camera gets to present their video creation through online video sharing. This has allowed for unconventionally creative ideas to be viewed millions of times within an inconceivably short period of time, and also collaborated upon in ways
previously unheard of.

It is often true that what gets a lot of hits could just be a pointless, but hilarious, cat doing a silly dance, but online sharing goes much further than that. Not only is there room for this dancing cat, but also for large (and sometimes even disruptive) innovation that is generated by passionate and
experienced users rather than large companies and their R&D departments (think The Pirate Bay and peer to peer music, video and software sharing). The consumers have become producers, in a sense.

What exactly is this for?

Increasingly inventors of new technologies don’t exactly know what the killer application of their innovations will be. When cellphone manufacturers invented the short message service, or SMS, they had no idea what its exact use would be. Only when it fell into the hands of large number of teenagers did the invention find its purpose. This is an entirely new model for innovation, where value is often added cumulatively. Even social networking sites created a framework where users’ own needs and innovations dictate the ultimate use and direction of the technology.

New ways of spreading ideas

Researchers are using new communication methods, such as video sharing, as a tool to spread their ideas. This is leading to innovations not coming into life from a single moment of genius or epiphany, but rather through a cumulative process of collaboration. One researcher finds some creative way of using a Wiimote controller for making an interactive whiteboard, and within days millions of people have not only seen his work, but also used his ideas to fuel their own innovative projects.
New forms of copyright are adding to this collaboration. The Creative Commons licenses offer an alternative to the strict copyright of old, allowing others, for example, to use cc ­licenced photographs or music in their own projects. Go to http://za.creativecommons.org/ for more info.

The Old still there

Luckily the new hasn’t wiped out the old. People still go to the movies, buy magazines and listen to CDs. Radio and newspapers have not faded away, but are evolving with changes in technology, although a number of newspapers and magazines are struggling. All these new technologies and media have simply expanded the scope for creative ­collaboration. Their use has given consumers and users a richer and greater choice, as well as a voice when they want one.

 

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