At dinner the other night somebody at an adjacent table was pondering that age old question; “who first realized you could eat an artichoke?” The question arose again at brunch yesterday, once again in a conversation on my periphery. I think the Gods are trying to tell me something.
The answer is, I’m sad to say all to painfully obvious. Innovation happens on the periphery. Where the need is greatest or the skill is most intense. Often where both are found together. That huge pool of poor starving people are continuously research on our behalf to discover new foods. Occasionally they discover something neat and the well feed among us get the benefit.
This model; where the vast unwashed masses do the work and a few aggregate the benefit lies at the heart of any number of modern successes. Open Source, when it works best, is a fine example hundreds of millions of users, tens of thousands of developers, maybe a thousand contributing developers, a dozen developers doing the design and coordination and out pops Apache. Or Amazon, millions of readers, a few write reviews, Amazon captures them and out pops a unique product differentiator – one that’s hard to replicate because of the network effects. Or EBay with all those buyers and sellers rendezvousing around what is a really simple web site. Or Google using all those carefully hand crafted links as tiny votes to ranks the web’s pages. Or Microsoft with it’s thousands of developers striving to push the envelope of their platform to new heights.
Tim O’Reilly get’s it.