[OSGeo Africa] We are all prosumers engaging in cooptition
ANaude at csir.co.za
Mon Oct 6 06:02:10 EDT 2008
Last week I attended the first day of the international conference on Free and Open Source for GIS (FOSS4G). Just that one day (actually only afternoon) was very enlightening, not only about FOSS4G (and the tremendous enthusiasm of many of the presenters/ proponents) but also about the broader implications of increased (geo)connectivity, ambient intelligence, and what wiki-style collaboration can achieve.
Linking to what some have described as the shift to 'Web2.0', my over-arching general conclusion about these broader implications as that we (or at least the world's knowledge workers) are prosumers (producer-consumers) engaging in cooptition (co-operation and competition). The presenter from Google Earth illustrated what this means from their perspective (underlaid by their mission statement "we aim to [geographically] organise the worlds information so that it is universally accessible and useful"). He showed material from India where Google Mapmaker is used 'from the bottom up" to add info on the location of small businesses, etc. and generally help to fill the gaps. Another presenter (in a quick fire session where each had just 5 minutes) focused specifically on the prosumer concept, and also gave examples how web-based geographic referencing and tracking generates (produces) and makes information available for all to consume.
The shift to 'Web2.0'/prosumers and cooptition, has huge implications for traditional contract or market based business models but I'm not sure that the open/ wiki/ free cooperation model is the answer for all or most knowledge work. Besides the open source programming skills shortage and (in my opinion, vastly underestimated change management costs), there will still have to be some paid-for cost recovery and there will be competition (also among FOSS platforms!). So there still a large number of (trans-disciplinary/ research?) business model type questions that have to be addressed.
A last thought that I would like to share with you comes from my recent reading into core-periphery models (of spatial-economic development) and network science. A key conclusion from this is that regardless of the business model, nodes (read into this also "platforms") with high levels of agglomeration and connectivity will continue to grow with increased economies of scale and positive externalities (such as the mutual benefits that firms in one [virtual] location receive by being part of the same cluster). Seen from this point of view, it does not matter whether the node that has reached this critical mass is proprietary (such as in the case of Microsoft, ESRI and Google) or free and voluntary (such as in the case of Wikipedia). But as in the case of all scale-free networks [see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scale-free_network#Generative_models ] it is not inconceivable that polynuclear systems with a few dominant nodes will develop (we after all have Macintosh and a few other large secondary nodes in the software world!)
I will conclude with a comment from Tim Sutton from his day at FOSS4G.
>Some common refrains from amongst the people I spoke to at FOSS4G2008:
* we don't know what FOSS GIS products exist
* how do we choose between two or more competing FOSS GIS products that do the same thing
* how can we get training in FOSS GIS
* how do we migrate our existing set up to FOSS GIS
* how can we get (PAID and otherwise) support for FOSS GIS
* where can we get free data
There were also some heartwarming success stories of people who have already adopted FOSS in their businesses and municipalities etc.>
Please also see his ideas on a roadmap for FOSS4G in Africa.
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e-mail: anaude at csir.co.za
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