Posted by: Nancy | March 7, 2009

Open-source world


Wednesday afternoon while on a run, I saw my first crocus of the season — a tiny cluster of purple petals with golden faces,  just next to a small snow patch.  At home, I Twittered my delight — well, almost — I stopped.

What does this have to do with business? Why would anybody care? I thought of  the current Doonesbury strip and all the now-trendy criticism of Twitter.

But I kept thinking about it. Then in a moment of serendipity,  Science Friday on NPR discussed the phenologists who are enlisting observers to help document nature’s events — things like the date of the first crocus, first jonquils, first dogwood blossoms. Suddenly, my Twitter-that-almost-was had a meaning — a hyperlocal contribution to the scientific record. As a citizen scientist, my observations can support the development of a predictive model to help us understand the climate. (Plus, I get to share my delight at the same time.)

It seems easier than ever for the individual to contribute to a larger goal in small but meaningful ways. The contributions can be widespread, from hyperlocal to global, gathered and measured and applied.  It’s not just a nice philosophy — mass collaboration,  crowdsourcing and open source models are real and can be applied to drive business results.  See Wikipedia as a real-world success story and Wikinomics for dozens of business applications.  Think of the open source model of software development, where anyone can contribute an improvement — apps,  widgets, ideas. A population of citizen scientists, citizen journalists, developers; a population of contributors.

Oh, count me in!

It’s an open source world and that bodes well for businesses that are willing to participate — that is, to listen to customers who will share ideas and feedback.  It can drive business results — marketshare, customer loyalty, innovation, employee engagement can all be measured in the bottom line.

Let me know if you want to explore more. I’m open.

PS:  There’s more to come on this theme. In upcoming posts, I’ll address:

  • the idea of tapping into hyperlocal expertise for news reporting (citizen journalism — I’ve been intrigued by this for a long time).
  • the naysayers who challenge open source models, not believing in the accuracy of the amateur contributors (perhaps my crocus had actually bloomed on Tuesday and I just didn’t see it then).
  • the wisdom of crowds and the use of predictive markets as a business tool.
  • the potential army of spies,  the omnipowerful database and privacy challenges — and how businesses can manage privacy risks.


  1. […] and open-source culture, and uses crowd-sourcing techniques to solicit input to its forecasts. (See Open Source World and others related […]

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