The Age Of Association


grouphug1.jpgAs old media complains, some leaders of the information age are finally starting to realize that another drastic change has occurred, and it’s time to adapt…or prepare for the long, languishing walk into extinction.

Today is an open source era. Holding proprietary technology, data, information, etc. is counter-productive. Not allowing others to participate is pointless and a waste of capital. When all are allowed to participate, the resources of the globe are employed, and there is no stronger work force. The only way towards true progress is through collaboration, and this means allowing others to use what was previously viewed as proprietary. Open source is defined as “a set of principles and practices that promote access to the production and design process for various goods, products, resources and technical conclusions or advice.”

In layman’s terms, this means all the tools needed to be a fully engaged and contributing member of today’s digital society are available when and where needed for free. For those crying piracy or immediately worried about revenue streams, it is essential to remember the code of ethics within the open source environment dictates that sharing and collaboration–intellectual capital–creates value, not the selling of software. A lot of money has been made with open source software, through using the software, not selling it. (Note: Unbound Edition has been created entirely with open source software.)
Additionally, companies are becoming evermore transparent, and citizens evermore connected through social networks. Those that participate in this digital realm expect, not hope, to have the tools, information, data, entertainment, etc. they want available…and to be shared freely.

When things are shared this way, it becomes a public collaboration. There is a desirable economics to this: faster innovation, creation, problem solving and business competitiveness becomes available at dramatically reduced prices. More brains. Less dollars. Anyone can do the math.

While the open source movement seems like a techy subject matter, it’s starting to take place everywhere. Nearly all of the major networks offer the opportunity to “catch up” on the episodes of their hit shows either online or on demand. So far, users only have the opportunity fast forward, rewind, stop and play. However, the next step would be to give the users control to record and reproduce what they generate. This may be a bit of a pipe dream considering who runs the networks, but just imagine what people could create.

To some, this may seem scary. “Just give away my work, software, intellectual capital, etc. for free!?!” Yes. Give it away. The goal of anything great should always start with making meaning, not money. Visionaries know, create meaning first and monetize it second, after it has become a success (See Google, they’ve been rather successful at this approach).

Yes, this means the game has changed. And like all games, or any successful business endeavor, it is a gamble. Every good gambler knows that folding can be more important than holding. The hand may be lost, but the game continues, extending the chance of future winnings.

So, with open source software, corporate transparency and social networking all on the rise, it is fair now to call this an “Age of Association.” In this context, sharing, collaboration and creativity become the engines for enormous economic growth…and that’s a beautiful thing. So, the lesson for today’s big media: it’s no longer a one way street; it’s a global conversation. The money will go to the first company that realizes how to be the platform on which this conversation takes place.

All of this creates a situation that gives everyone power. Like David Kirkpatrick said, “if you have a computer and internet access, then you are a media company.” The history of media (freedom of the press) and entrepreneurialism are definitional to American culture: open source is simply the current manifestation. Everyone has a voice, everyone can participate and everyone wins. This is true democracy in action. When a guy in an apartment can take down presidents or get them elected, it’s a new era. And, ultimately, it all benefits the average American, even if they don’t completely comprehend how big this shift really is.

Boyd Pearson is Editor-in-Chief of Unbound Edition and a Senior Associate with Patrick Davis Partners, a national brand strategy firm with offices in Atlanta, St. Louis, New York and San Francisco.  Mr. Pearson contributes to the firm’s Digital & Content Strategy Practice.

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