Collaboration - Realizing an Idea - The Maker's Manual: A Practical Guide to the New Industrial Revolution 1st Edition (2015)

The Maker's Manual: A Practical Guide to the New Industrial Revolution 1st Edition (2015)

Part II. Realizing an Idea

Chapter 9. Collaboration

In the past, the community of craftspeople was closed. Guilds, which were collections of artisans, rigidly controlled who became a carpenter, a mason, a glassworker, a weaver, and many other trades. Master craftsmen were licensed by the guild, and only they were authorized to teach their trade, almost always through a long aprenticeship program. People who practiced a craft without being licensed represented a danger to the guild and had to be fought. Guilds pretty much died out in the late 1700s, although much of its nomenclature still remains (“journeyman plumber”). These days some craftspeople, frightened by the possibilities of globalization, demand the introduction of guild-like safeguarding systems instead of looking forward and modernizing their technologies and business models.

The Importance of the Net

Today, in place of guilds, there are specialized associations, which, except for few cases, do not have a role of monopolistic protection, but intend to be more of a point of reference in the dialogue with institutions.

The maker is somewhat like an artisan, when we consider the passion put in their work, the desire to experiment and improve, the attention to details, and the habit of making do with the available tools for which new uses are continuously invented.

But unlike guild craftsmen, the makers’ approach to sharing information is radically different. Sharing for a maker isn’t a bad thing. It is a powerful tool to help people reach their goals, and from this point of view collective intelligence is an unlimited and irreplaceable resource. We are not saying that a maker can’t and mustn’t aim at creating brands and patents; makers simply recognize and accept alternative possibilities.

The Internet allows us to share our projects in a simple way. The fact that a click is enough to turn a digital model into a physical object is a very strong spur not to build our own models from scratch, but to look for a pre-existing model that is suitable for our needs, or easily modifiable. While looking for such a model, we frequently run into people with the same interests and same needs as we. Together with these people, we can create a community that turns a project around, such as[Make:’s site] or[Instructables] (seeFigure 9-1). The people we meet often have competences very different from ours in terms of application, skills, experience and culture. This variety is a crucial component of the great contribution a community can bring to a project.

The person who can best describe a problem is often the one with the best chance of solving it. Increasing the number of people involved in a project makes the number of descriptions higher, likely bringing us closer to a solution. In addition, the mixture of competences that different people bring to a problem makes mutual growth possible, gives everyone the chance to learn from the others, and improves the overall understanding of the current project.

For a maker, the creation path can feel more important than the finished product. For this reason, the possibility of growth during the carrying out of the project is extremely significant, and the internet can help us a great deal in this sense.

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Figure 9-1. On Instructables you can find instructions to build practically everything.

An Open process

Making your work available to others can seem difficult. What if it is not good enough? What if people don’t like your work? What if people like it and someone steals your idea? There are thousands of reasons that can stop you. We come from a long time tradition of patents, in which we are completely immersed: we just need to consider the continuous lawsuits between the giants of consumer electronics that sue (and pay) each other for infringing one anothers’.

Ideas are for free, what actually counts is their realization.

Moreover, even with all instructions available, without considering a perfectly reproducible industrial process, the final result is not within everyone’s grasp. Paco Torreblanca has no problem in publishing bakery books with very detailed recipes, because even his best colleagues will never make his same masterpieces.

But is it the same for the digital production process?

Indeed, a click is enough to allow anyone to manufacture an object completely identical to ours.

So why is it important to share?

Distributed Intelligence

Everyone likes to think he is unique. We are unique, but only up to a certain point. Even if--and this is a big “if”--you are the most brilliant person in your team, there will always be a great deal of people better than you when measured by different points of view. Even if you are one out of one million, there are thousands like you in the world.

In certain types of maker communities, people aren’t in it for the money, but for social capital in the form of reputation. Some maker communities are based on meritocracy, because it is the community itself that votes and supports the different ideas, without considering who proposes them (usually it is people we don’t even know), exclusively on the basis of their value.

The production process can require many different competences: electronics, mechanics, engineering, art, and so on. It is really difficult to be an expert in all these fields. But it is a good idea to step out of our “comfort zone” at least become conversant with different competences. We should try to concentrate on our strengths to best develop them, and live with the fact that not everyone can dance the Swan Lake ballet or sing Nessun Dorma before an enraptured audience. Instead, by taking part in a community, each of us can give his best and the composition of different functionalities guarantees the harmony and quality of the final project.

Yes, right … but what if they steal our project?

A New Protection

Traditionally, the pattern has been to patent something as soon as you have invented it. A patent gives you a monopoly to produce and sell that invention for a number of years; no one else can make money off of it without your permission. But lately, some people in the maker movement have concluded that this strategy--in a dynamic and distributed context like the one we have described--is not successful, for a number of reasons. First of all, when we start discussing our project in public, we still haven’t got anything completely definitive, so we are not able to patent it before exhibiting it to the public. In an iterated process of product development, we would need to patent the product several times, each time the design changes. Patenting an invention can be rather expensive, so this strategy quickly adds up to additional costs, and the end result is a series of patents for unusable objects.

Moreover, if we’re collaboratively designing something, who would own the patent? The volunteers who did the work? Someone else? This opens a huge ethical conundrum, which could damage that social capital we have built up so far. On Thingiverse (Figure 9-2), for example, users are encouraged to upload their 3D designs, while other users are encouraged to remix those designs to create new ones.

The alternative strategy is therefore the sharing of one’s own (if we can still call them this way) creations. What’s more, with some types of license the protection works in the opposite way: we can use what we have created on the condition that we continue sharing it so that other people can benefit from it, just as with open source software.

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Figure 9-2. Thingiverse: a universe of objects.

Creative Commons licenses

The Creative Commons licenses allow us to specify the ways in which one of our creations can be used.

There are four conditions of use we can combine according to our needs:

§ attribution required (BY);

§ the limitation of using the work only for non-commercial purposes (NC);

§ the prohibition against creating derivative works (ND);

§ the requirement of distributing derivative works only under a license identical to the license of the original work (SA).

If, for example, we wanted to permit the distribution of our work for commercial aims, too, as long as no modification is made, we could use CC BY-ND.

What shall we do, then, to have the authorship of the project acknowledged? Once more, it is the community we have been able to build in a climate of mutual esteem and trust that helps us, acknowledging us as the legitimate authors. Also in this way the participants not only help us, but they also have a direct return in terms of visibility, fairness and reputation. In an indirect way this increases our network of acquaintances, helping us find better opportunities and offering us a new springboard for our personal and direct growth, economically too: who wouldn’t like to work with one of the leading personalities of a successful project at an international level? Even if the main reason remains passion, this is another reason why makers continuously look for interesting and promising projects able to attract people’s attention and gain approval.

It is true that in this way we haven’t got the level of legal protection afforded by patents. In its place, there is a project created with distributed intelligence, for which all marketing is made by the community itself, composed at the same time of technology evangelists, designers, testers, people dealing with documentation--in other words, people who carry on the project as if it were theirs. Well, in a way, it is a bit theirs too, so it is more of a mission than a job, and this mission is carried on with passion and with a performance that an employee hardly ever has. In addition, as they are not only our collaborators but also our first customers: they pay us.

Bits, Bytes and Atoms

By operating in this context, we share anything digital, thus permitting the reproduction of our artifacts on the other side of the world too. The only thing we keep is the brand, which allows to univocally identify an object coming from our productive pipeline, just like it happens with open hardware products such as Arduino.

Sure, everyone can build an Arduino-compatible board, but few people will actually do it. Most people will prefer buying it directly from the manufacturer, who gives the bits and bytes for free (all necessary information to create the product) but who sells the atoms (finished product). Considering what we have said so far, the preferential manufacturers will be the ones who have created and supported the project rather than an unknown clone of it. The clone may have its own market too, but if you consider the figures of the various manufacturers, you’ll realize the validity of this heuristic process, also because the clone will hardly manage to be as successful in terms of distribution and commercialization. The important thing is not to fall to forgery, the only true offence to this business model, because it doesn’t protect either the original manufacturer or the consumer. For example, although you can make an Arduino clone, you can’t call it Arduino without licensing the name because it is a trademark. However, should a clone introduce some improvments, the whole system would benefit from it, because other realities may start again from the modified project for a further innovation.

But what if they really steal your market? Maybe you need to take a look around and start with something new. We may then end up creating a product or a service with a higher surplus value. Maybe you’ll be inspired to create the next generation of your product, just as Arduino has done, from the original Arduino to the Uno, Leonardo, Due, Tre, Mega, Yún, and many more.

In this case too, you benefit, as does the whole system.