In recent years, crowdfunding has become popular as a way of sourcing finance that allows creative people – makers, artists, inventors and innovators – to bring a prototype or early product to market. Crowdfunding platforms enable individuals to collectively become a source of capital for fledgling commercial ventures that might not otherwise have an avenue to develop to a level of market readiness that would allow for manufacture, sales and distribution of that product.
This innovative disruption in business models is just the beginning. There is further disruption to be done – specifically in terms of how these products are developed and, more importantly, become interconnected at a time when all of the things, people, places and activities in our lives communicate with each other. This is not simply the Internet of Things, it is the Allternet – and this is where crowdmaking begins.
A product is not a standalone entity. It exists in a matrix of both digital and physical products within a context of human activity and meaning. Crowdmaking conceives of the product as a component of a far greater network of interconnected products. This means that any product can be part of a family of products, or made into something bigger by combining it with other products. In order to do this, the products must speak the same language and be supported by the platform through which they are financed and distributed.
The platform acts as an interchange. It is based on communication and protocols where things are connected and can be tracked and traced within the localised system – for instance, the home or the workplace. All of the products that plug into the platform use the same protocols. As a buyer, you can build yourself a suite of products for your home, all of which speak the same language. This becomes very powerful – not to mention useful – in smarter homes & smarter cities. If you adhere to a particular platform, that language provides consistency and interoperability.
The case of the car is instructive. If you own an Audi, you are driving a system constructed of Audi components. If you have a BMW, it will be comprised of BMW parts. The parts may be created by different manufacturers in different places, but what is important is that the components fit together to construct an integrated system, not that they are made by a single organisation. This is how the connected home will work. You source components within the system that you have adopted for your home, and these are all seamlessly interoperable because they are from the same family of parts.
The crowdmaking marketplace supports crowdmakers who use the same protocol to build any number of products, processes, tools and creative works and can interconnect as components of a wider system. It is based on an open, ‘sharing economy’ ethos. The platform provider takes (ideally) just 10% of the profit and provides the protocol, while the rest of the wealth is generated by means of the innovation and creativity of the makers. The platform is the context within which individuals and groups may create their own businesses and earn in a self-determined and flexible way.
In this way the platform enables both incumbents and new businesses to participate, whether they are one-off individual projects or mass production enterprises by large employers. All makers and manufacturers can contribute to the crowdmaker platform and have a slice of this nascent market. By boosting both small scale and large scale manufacturing, the crowdmaking platform provides a unique opportunity for the European economy while acting in the interests of the greater good and with enhanced consumer choice.
There are precedents for this kind of marketplace. Bandcamp provides a platform, environment and ecommerce system for any musician to sell their own music through a consistent framework, and takes a percentage of the revenue. Bandcamp only makes money by making money for artists. Uber provides a platform for private individuals to make money by driving passengers, and takes a share of the revenue for making this possible. The platform and interoperability is enabled by the underlying technology – and the platform makes money by creating value and income for its participants and providers.
As we begin to establish the ways in which the Allternet becomes woven into our lives, and providing we can support it with appropriate legal frameworks, there is an historic opportunity to create an entirely new kind of marketplace. It is a powerful moment for a new type of creativity and enterprise — one that uses the sharing economy as an ethical framework, and the affordances of ubiquitous crowdfunding and crowdmaking platforms to empower citizens to build, share, finance and distribute ranges of innovative products, services and content that are mutually interconnected and can, in turn, inspire further innovation.