A new industrial model

We discussed in a previous post how new initiatives are changing the way we make cars, houses, furniture, clothes, and probably, in the end, everything we actually make. We said it is a consistent movement, but if so, what makes it so? All of these projects share a common model:

  • Don’t protect the knowledge. Share it. It’s probably the hardest thing to understand as we’re living in a society of strongly protected knowledge with patents, trademarks and copyright. But an open source model enables the rise of a community, and that may be worth much more than the copyright that you’re protecting. So you need to switch from “Don’t copy me!” to “Please copy what we do, use it in another market, improve it and try it in ways we haven’t”. 
  • Make a network based on open standards. No need for one company to rule everyone. People will be able to join as they like and do things you would never have thought of. Open Standards are essential as they are what ensure you can use your improvements with other people’s together.
  • Adopt a horizontal governance that is open to contribution. As there is no hierarchy between the entities of the network, there will be no boss deciding what is to be done. Decisions need therefore to be made on a consensus basis so that everybody in the community feels empowered.
  • Produce locally and customize. That’s what open source is about. A new group can emerge anywhere to use what you’ve designed for their own needs, and adapt it to their reality. You could download your next piece of furniture, for example, cut the pieces in a workshop close to your home, and adapt it to your own living room. Forget about boring everyone-has-the-same furniture!

So at this point you might be wondering why you should consider this instead of a good old proprietary control model. The real question is actually this: how long can these proprietary models survive, each in their own silo, while communities gather to build something common? It’s not about giving up the project, but about growing the community by empowering people and enabling diversity. In other words, it is not a threat, it is an opportunity.

But yet some critical success factors need to be kept in mind in order to get that community actually growing. The community needs to be taken into account to set the right governance, organize the right communication, set the right standards, and document them so others can join. And most importantly, encourage the initiatives so that people feel empowered.

So whatever you do, whatever the domain you’re in, you should consider it,  because it is the world of tomorrow.

 

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An ongoing revolution

You might have heard about Wikispeed, the open source car project started by Joe Justice in Seattle. You may think that “open source car” is a paradoxical idea. Actually, it makes a lot of sense.

They publish an open source design for a car that they build themselves with standard materials that can be found in any hardware store. The idea is that anyone with an Internet access, including you, can download the design, make their own car out of it, test it, improve the design, and republish it. That’s how hundreds of people have already participated.

If you think it’s a bunch of nuts in their garage in a complete insanity, you should think again. They’ve built a car that goes from 0 to 100 km/h in 5 seconds and tops at 240 km/h. Its fuel consumption is as low as 1,5 L/100km. And they’re working on the C3, which should be comfortable and cost less than 10 000 $. Plus you can build it locally, even yourself if you feel like it, and adapt it to your needs.

But they’re not alone. OSVehicle designs Tabby, an open source car that can be built in 42 min, for less than 4000€. Opendesk designs open source furniture, that you can cut out in any wood workshop close to you, and then assemble like a flat-pack from Ikea. Wikihouse makes open source wood houses that you can cut out and build like a lego house. Openknit makes an open source knitting machine, on which you can make clothes that you download. Think about the 3D printers, think about all the creative commons contents.

Is it really credible, you may ask. The experience we have so far is with software. Free software has existed for more than 30 years now. In the beginning, it all looked like a bunch of nuts in their basements. Crazy people with a crazy idealistic vision. But it proved to be super efficient. No one doubts today that Linux is a very strong technical basis for an operating system. Apache is the most used web server software. Firefox has deposed Internet Explorer as the most used browser. And a countless number of other applications prove everyday how strong that model can be.

So it is not a bunch of nuts in their garage. It is a consistent movement, hitting all domains, and changing the way we work. A lot of questions still need to be answered, but there is no doubt it will impact our society in a long lasting way. And it is happening. Today.

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Article in Linux Essentiel of December

We were very pleased to read a 7 pages article in the December issue of Linux Essentiel, a French magazine about linux and free software.

The article actually discusses the difficulties with the current models of free software. It first studies the different possibilities that a developer has to work on a free software project: voluntary work, get paid by his company, sell his expertise…  Then it discusses the model of free software editor, with all the benefits a company can get by opening its software, and also the challenges it can represent. And then you have the free software projects supported by a group of companies. The article explains why it is interesting for companies to do it. Finally, it states that although donations really help developers, very few projects can actually live with them.

The second part of the article is about Open Funding, how it works, and why it is actually a solution to the free software economic problem. They actually do quite a good job in explaining how it works. Yes, I know, it’s their job. :)

This issue of the magazine also includes interesting other articles, including a quite comprehensive report on music and movies download & streaming, a presentation of the latest version of Ubuntu (13.10) and quite a few presentations and tutorials of software. So, no thinking, just run to your closest newsstand!

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Distributed growth

As discussed in a recent post, the structure of stock can be the source of much tension in collaborative start-ups, whose main purpose is to connect people who will make business together. Such structures need a certain size to be sustainable, and the growth needed to reach that size requires a lot of efforts. And to achieve these efforts, start-ups raise a lot of money, that they have to pay back with a large retribution. So customers, who are the ones who actually create value in this model, happen to leave a non negligible part of that value only to grow a network that will benefit others. That doesn’t really sound fair.

We discussed an alternative to this funding model. But beyond this question of funding, it might be reasonable to find another way to grow. This is even more obvious when you think that any other functions in an Internet start-up is so scalable. Making a web platform requires very little work. Testing and fixing it is so easy. Hosting costs are negligible. And most functions can be automated. So the web can connect distant people who have no relation to the company to make business in a distributed way, but we should communicate in a highly centralized, hierarchical way?

There may be an alternative. The same way Internet start-ups compete with traditional businesses by externalizing their main service, they can grow by externalizing their sales/communication/community management function to a distributed network of local connectors managing their own community of users. You end up with a “glocal” community, a network of networks. Each single community is a small start-up of its own, managed by a connector. It is linked to the global network on which it relies for the platform development, and coordination. But it can live its own life, grow to any size one likes and have its own animation and culture. This model has the relevance of a small local group, but the strength of a global network.

If the Internet is to make all business models distributed, there is no reason why there should still be hierarchical armies of sales persons to sell those distributed services. It means giving up some money, and also some revenue. There are probably many obstacles on that path, difficulties that we don’t foresee. But it looks like it might be worth giving a try. And we will.

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Collaborative shareholding?

We recently discussed on this blog why it makes sense to crowdfund free software. That’s why we created a crowdfunding platform tailored for free software. But as any other platform of that kind, it needs to reach a certain size to be sustainable.

All platforms of the so-called collaborative economy gather people so that they can make business together. But because of the network effect, the more people gather, the more value the platform has. And until the platform reaches a certain size, it needs extra effort to live. And after that size the bigger the network, the greater the value. That’s why so many platforms raise millions. So that they can communicate about it and make it grow.

But then you need to pay back the investors, which means for the platform to grab some of the value made by the users. You end up with users working together, paying for the platform to grow, in order to pay the investors. From that moment on, the platform is in conflict between the interests of its users and those of its investors and tensions may appear. This issue has been raised a lot recently under different aspects, such as the analysis by Janelle Orsi of the recent lawsuit against Lyft, or questionings on who owns the sharing economy platforms and on the impact of the sharing economy on social conditions.

So how can we solve this conflict between the interests of the users and the shareholders? Just make the users your shareholders! And offering users a chance to invest in a platform they rely on for their own revenue is not only a way to prevent conflicts, it is also a good way to improve users commitment. Plus if you get a large number of users to join, it can bring the platform a good quantity of cash! For the users, it is a way to secure the platform that brings their income, and to make sure it doesn’t move in a way prejudicial for them. And also to get some cash if some dividend is paid.

After all, we make the platforms for our users. It’s reasonable they should get involved in building them, and become part of them. That sounds just more sustainable and fair. And more collaborative.

 

 

 

 

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C-base – A spaceship inside Berlin

They say it’s a space station that crashed in Berlin two million years ago. Well I can’t prove them wrong!

You wouldn’t imagine that from the outside. Just a simple door in the street. But once you’ve crossed it, you’re inside a metal universe full of digital screens and beeping and blinking walls.

Photo by Henry Bergius

 

It’s the oldest hackerspace in Europe, and probably also in the world, more than 18 years old! It has more than 500 members, and they hack almost anything, from software to hardware, they make robots, 3D printing, wifi devices, and so many other stuffs.

Photo by MeTaVoLuT1oN and C-base

They meet there almost every evening, and they have a drink, play games, and talk. There are many events going on, mostly on geeky subjects.

It’s like a parallel universe that you do not enter so easily: when a non member enters the space, an ‘Alien alarm’ rings. So I don’t know what they talk about when they’re between members, and you won’t know unless you become a member!

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Funding free software?

Open Initiative arose from the need to make software in a different manner. To make software that works. To stick to the real needs. To share to go faster. Because that’s not how the industry works currently.

The software industry was built in an industrial culture. Large investments, strong Intellectual Property protection, long development cycles, and standardized products with mass sales. And in fact, that made sense for heavy industry, but it still made some sense, for distribution issues, in the early IT world.

But the Internet came and disrupted all of this. Software is specific because it has no replication cost. With virtually no distribution costs, there is no need for a long cycle anymore. You can make your prototype, test it, distribute it, upgrade it and fix it again. All of this with no heavy cost. No production line to build, no shipment to organize, no stocks to manage. And yet, we still think of IT companies the same way we think of industrial companies.

There is another way. If you invest a lot in a product to get it done, it is crucial to protect it strongly so that you can get good return on your investment. But if your investment is small, it can be better to let others use it, so that you can profit from their work as well as they profit from yours. That’s what open-source software is about. So free software is not only more transparent and fair, it is also more efficient, because it creates an ecosystem on which you can base your work to create quickly very powerful software.

But that’s not all. As software can be updated easily, it’s better to test it as often as possible. Free software makes it even easier because you get a community that can test your software quick and often. So, less risk, less investment, more efficiency, more fairness. That sounds like a good deal right? That’s what we mean by “make software in a different manner”. That’s why Open Initiative came to life.

And you say: if it’s free software, how do you make a living? Well, as Stallman said, it is free as in “free speech”, not as in “free beer”. Free software developers need to earn money, as everybody else. And that’s why we created Open Funding. Free software brings value to everybody. So the price should be shared between everybody. And crowdfunding is about sharing the effort of funding, when free software is about sharing the effort of development. It just makes sense.

So, fund it by the crowd, make it by small steps, let users test and validate, make it open source. This is a different way.

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Disco Soup in Madrid

One third of all food produced worldwide ends up in the garbage. Bad processes, spoiling… The reasons are numerous. But the worse is probably all that is thrown away although still edible, because it is not in the standard. But what can you do about it…1381996_643637712323675_1487199528_n

Well some people do something. I had a great disco soup experience in Madrid. They just go ask retailers to get their rejected food. Vegetables, bred, cereals, you name it. Then they gather with as many people as they can, they turn on the music, and everyone gets to peel, cut and mix everything. That makes a big good meal for everyone to eat!

There are plenty of disco soups organized around the globe, maybe one next to you! And if not, well, just fill your trunk of vegetables, and just make one.

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Easy Code in Madrid

Utopis US is a great coworking space in Madrid. There are lots of very cool projects and very interesting people. In the basement of space number 2, you can find one of them, Easy Code. Easy Code is a development company that makes code for the web, exploring new technologies to provide new usages.

IMG_0061One of their projects is a very nice try to use Kinect, the microsoft 3d gaming device, to offer stores a new way to interact with their customers. Their idea is to set up a screen in the store front window, and a Kinect to detect people moves. So once someone wants to interact with the screen, he’ll just have to move his arms or hands to get more information from that screen.IMG_0060

I had a chance to try their system. Although you can tell it is still in development, and that they need to interact more with stores to precisely define the use they can make of it, you can imagine very quickly the potential this system could have if you were in front of a store that might interest you. You don’t need to pass the door, or ask anything. You just pass by, you get the information you need, and you’re done! And who knows, maybe you will be able to order that pair of pants you specifically want and you’ll be able to try next week inside the store.

There are probably lots of new interactions that could arise from this kind of systems, exploring this new world between traditional and web stores. A lot of new possibilities come to life these days, and it’s passionating to see them growing right there, like in Madrid.

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3d printing at the Makers of Barcelona

It’s a basement below a street in the center of Barcelona. The space is called Makers of Barcelona, and the ground floor is a coworking space used by freelancers of all kinds you could imagine. But the basement looks like a workshop of a new kind, and is dedicated to the so-called makers.

IMG_20130927_193359This space is full of 3d printers, full or in parts, and all kind of weird objects made with them. A 3d printer is a simple machinery controlled by computer software that assembles materials in a defined shape. These machines can print any object you can imagine, either for an decorative purpose, to get a cheap prototype of some device you have in mind, or just useful pieces for your daily life. This field is very young, but evolving very quickly, and is full of promises for the future.

Amongst all these innovative initiatives, I met David down in the basement of the MOB. David is an Australian who has lived in Barcelona for several years. He uses 3d printers, and works on improving them with a new sliding system for the printing heads. This could result in 3d printer structures 5 to 10 times cheaper to make than the existing ones. He’s done a good job prototyping, and is starting a crowdfunding campaign to end up with a finished product.

IMG_20130927_193353This innovation could result in much more affordable 3d printers, and is part of wide movement of democratization of these devices. Imagine that you had close to you such a printer, and that you could just download any object you need in the materials you want, and just print it. Your consumer life would probably be much different. Well, we might be closer to that picture that you might think.

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