“Global Business” by the amazing Peter Day has really blown my ...">“Global Business” by the amazing Peter Day has really blown my ..." />“Global Business” by the amazing Peter Day has really blown my ...">
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First bits, now atoms

Peer production has moved from music and software to machines and factories.

I guess I should have seen it coming. But this week’s BBC World Service radio installment of “Global Business” by the amazing Peter Day has really blown my socks off. I wish I’d thought of all this stuff myself but, sadly, my eureka moment comes courtesy of Mr Day’s dulcet tones. I’m just reporting the facts, ma’am.

So here are the facts: we initially reported in our Gen C feature that peer production was revolutionising the creation and distribuiton of digitial information—the bits that make up stuff like music, video, software and books. Sites such as Amazon, Myspace and YouTube come to mind.

But wait for it. The next step is into the world of not of bits, but atoms. Day reported on two incredible phenomenon, the Fabrication Laboratory and the Honeybee Network.

Fab labs are mini-factories that can create 3D protoypes and small circuits and use tools like laser cutters. This stuff was previously only in the domain of corporations and universities but the digital revolution is also a revolution in toolmaking. Now in small rooms around the world backyard inventors, enthusiasts, self-trained geniuses are using fab labs to solve engineering problems and create new products outside of usual range of business activity. So a poor Indian kid creates a water pump that can be controlled by cell phone, revolutionising control in areas where power is irregular. And an Indian nursery manager invents a soil scoop that means his workers don’t catch legionaires disease from the bacteria in the soil. Sometimes it's simple stuff. Sometimes high tech.

In the developed world Fab Labs have caught on as the next step in personal expression—don’t just think of how a new alarm clock can be made: just make it! Neil Gershenfeld, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is championing Fab Labs as the next stage in the digital revolution. He’s predicting 3D copiers to become as ubiquitous as the printers we have at home. “In the developed world the killer app for fab labs is personal experession.”

In the developing world the killer app is liberating the billions of inventors and creatives to excape their dreadful conditions by themselves. The poor as creators not as consumers!

That’s where Honeybee Network comes in. This web-based community and print magazine shares ideas, inventions and innovations from the third world. It allows third world inventors to popularise their ideas without losing copyright yet share their breakthroughs that can transform lives so dramatically. It has already 50,000 inventions on its files.

The founder, Anil Gupta, a professor from the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedaba, wants the IP of the poor to be respected and rewarded. “They often don’t realise the things that they create out of necessity are true innovations,” he says.

Some inventions include pesticide resistant peanuts, a tipping ox cart and the soil filler mentioned above.

The key idea with both these revolutions is the liberation of consumers from being dependent on companies to deliver products. As Gershenfeld puts it, the Rennaisance has come full circle. The Rennaisance turned learned people into wordsmiths and thinkers, not craftsmen. “Liberal arts were liberation from doing stuff with your hands.” Now, technology is turning us not just all into writers, filmmakers and musicians but soon we’ll all be toolmakers, builders and engineers.

Can’t wait!

Other related articles are:

Crowd sourcing —using your customers as your R&D lab

More Gen C—Ideas on how to do Gen C marketing