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The Problem of Crowdsourcing - Part 5 - The Plight of the Creatives

Part 5 - The Plight of the Creatives: How Individuals Who Innovate and Invent Professionally Are Denied Their Status in a Crowdsource Ecology

    With the advent of personalized manufacturing, the influence of crowdsourcing on the design of products has entered a new phase even less well secure from the debilitating effects of crowdsourced opinions about what constitutes good/bad or desirable/undesirable products.  It is now possible for anyone to create a merchandisable and reproducible product cheaply with the use of 3D printer technology (http://www.3dprinterworld.com/article/cowfab-putting-army-3d-printers-work).  These products are collected and pitched on sites that offer virtual 3D views and sell the construction files for anything from a bobblehead gnome to a rubber-band powered toothpick. Thingiverse (http://www.thingiverse.com)is one such online repository hosted by the manufacturer of Makerbot, a small format 3D printer.  People can upload 3D files of objects of their own design that can be downloaded by consumers at little or no cost.  People can now print objects that were previously only able to be made with expensive machinery.  But the objects are not the merchandise being sold. The real market is for the 3D Printer, a device whose purchase can be justified only because it can print any number of unsophisticated trinkets with limited value. When objects of real value come along, as they occasionally do, the machine (as well as the process of 3D printing digital products) threaten to undermine any potential for reasonable compensation to the designer for his or her work. This includes patented products such as the Boston Bruins Logo (http://www.fabbaloo.com/blog/2013/6/19/3d-printed-sports-logos-illegal.html).

    The biggest casualty of this production protocol is the quality of manufactured products. The second biggest casualty – and one which amplifies the first – is the increasingly high resistance to the involvement of the “Creatives,” individuals trained and professionally committed to produce high quality design. There is simply no room for the iterative design process in which an idea is developed slowly, over time and in many different versions to achieve a result which is well suited to its purpose. Instead, we have a disposable culture which extends even to the disposability of design as one inconsequential product after another is pitched, circulated and discarded.

    In this new economic ecology, the ideation and design process is changing and threatens to let the bottom fall out of the market for quality design. With crowdsourced design, there are “too many chefs in the kitchen” (http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/what-is-crowdsourcing/).  Consider Local Motors, a website that lets the public design their next car.  Not only does this form of crowdsourcing eliminate the Creative from the equation and put the design into the hands of unqualified participants but it also results in a product which is distinguished by its mediocrity (http://localmotors.com/rallyfighter/).  Nothing about crowdsourced design allows for excellence. Having lost an ability to express a dissenting voice over the din and cry of the crowd, reason plays no part in the deliberative process. Entertainment and a frivolous quest for the unprecedented and “different” hold sway.

    The oversaturation of people’s opinions in the design process can be exemplified in the social experiment created by TwitchPlayspokemon (http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/18/tech/gaming-gadgets/twitch-plays-pokemon/).  This was a video game played by 80,000 people at the same time.  In an experiment to test the limits of pure democracy, players were given control of their individual avatars without guidance or goals. Little to no progress ensued.  Left to its own devices, the crowd was incapable of generating a purpose and direction. It was reported that virtual characters, “wandered back and forth over the same spot, banged into walls and checked his inventory with neurotic frequency.”  The game moderator ultimately intervened by categorizing the players and creating a social hierarchy where none had existed before. Only then did some players begin to establish direction for others. In the end, it demonstrated nothing less than the social need for creative leadership.

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