Very well said. I see this inextricably linked to what I call as the age of the network. without the ability for folks to connect and collaborate, with powerful technology, this wouldn't happen.
Pro-Ams: The Rise Of The Amateur Professionals, Prosumers, Passionate Amateurs
As access to powerful and low-cost new media, electronics and digital technologies becomes easier and easier thanks to innovation and lower and lower prices, creating value, products and good content is not anymore the exclusive property of large corporations, or financially equipped teams of investors. Amateurs professionals are figuring out in more than one way, that they too can be effective and even sustainable products creators without needing to tap into large budgets, expensive machinery and highly paid professionals.
Are you one?
Thanks to the Internet and to the ongoing growth of former underground movements like Open Source, Blogging and P2P, a growing number of individuals are figuring out that even creating their own newspaper, magazine, radio or TV channel it is not anymore out of their reach.
Yes, their creation may not have the slick interface and the 9-months testing period that a Sony product can guarantee, but the level of innovation and the speed at which new ideas can be embedded in such amateur-created new products and services can outpace established players.
Good examples of this come from all directions: Skype, the first free Internet-based voice communication tool that works better and much more economically that a standard telephone it is not the fruit of research and engineering of a large multinational telecom. New P2P technologies like BitTorrent or the lesser known Byte Tornado utilized by the Cybersky-TV project, allow the distribution of audio, music and television programming (at broadcast quality levels) without the use of satellites, cable or antennas of any kind, is unsettling big media executives in their chairs.
What does it make these amateur professionals increasingly more powerful, but critical to the development of user-driven new products and services?
"A number of factors are coming together to empower amateurs in a way never before possible, blurring the lines between those who make and those who take.
Unlike the dot-com fortune hunters of the late 1990s, these do-it-yourselfers aren't deluding themselves with oversized visions of what they might achieve.
Instead, they're simply finding a way--in this mass-produced, Wal-Mart world--to take power back, prove that they can make the products that they want to consume, have fun doing so, and, just maybe, make a few dollars."
Passionate amateurs have in fact attracted the attention of both large corporations as well as the one of mainstream news sources, who have recently started to devote quite a bit of attention to this new spreading phenomenon.
Call them "prosumers" or "Pro-Am", professional amateurs are here to stay while gradually transforming many of the professional realities we now give for granted.
"Numerous currents have converged to produce this reaction.
Bloggers, those do-it-yourself journalists, showed big media that the barriers to entry (like owning a printing press, say) didn't much matter. Podcasters took radio into their own hands, creating audio shows and putting them online.
Amateur music producers, using software that was once the province only of major labels, invented mash-ups: combining songs into totally new ones, then giving them away or selling them.
And with the advent of services like Google AdSense, which let people easily put advertising on their sites, these tinkerers could--while not vaulting themselves into Bill Gates territory--at least break even.
There are even websites like Alibaba.com that will help these small-timers find Chinese factories eager for their work, meaning that the amateur nation has its own Match.com.
Microsoft estimates there are six million professional developers and 18 million amateurs: hobbyists, tinkerers, students."
(Source article: Fortune)
Photo credit: Aldo Peralta
The changes that Pro-Ams are bringing are as sweeping as the derision I see in the look of the blue-buttoned executives from big media companies who I have been telling this to. They not only don't believe this is happening, but worse, they discount it as a fad that has nothing to do with the very "serious" business they are in.
Thanks to such widespread corporate myopia and deliberated ignorance, commercial interests are missing out on the huge opportunities that Pro-Ams could create for them in terms of new opportunities, product development, marketing and more.
Money isn't usually a central goal for prosumers. ''What a photographer earns is so minimal," says Greenspun, a retired entrepreneur who teaches at MIT and flies his plane around the country with his Samoyed. ''It's not really worth trying to make money at it. The satisfaction I get is that other people are learning something from it." Greenspun adds that he also allows anyone to reproduce his work, so long as they credit him and provide a link to his website.
(Source Article: Boston Globe)
See for example some great examples of Pro-Am photographers hanging out at a growing number of online image clearinghouses like these.
"There are going to be more Pro-Ams in more walks of life and they are set to have a significant influence on society: socially, politically and economically.
A Pro-Am pursues an activity as an amateur, mainly for the love of it, but sets a professional standard. Pro-Ams are unlikely to earn more than a small portion of their income from their pastime but they pursue it with the dedication and commitment associated with a professional. For Pro-Ams, leisure is not passive consumerism but active and participatory; it involves the deployment of publicly
accredited knowledge and skills, often built up over a long career, which has involved sacrifices and frustrations."
(Source: The Pro-Am Revolution)
While the 20th century was marked by the rise of "certified" professionals produced by universities and technical schools, the 21st century will be marked by the rise of those who feel they do not need an official imprimatur from an accredited institution to claim their competence and desire to create something good ad useful in their lives.
"In one field after another, amateurs and their ramshackle organizations were driven out by people who knew what they were doing and had certificates to prove it.
Now that historic shift seems to be reversing. Even as large corporations extend their reach, we're witnessing the flowering of Pro-Am, bottom-up self organization."
Rap, Linux, The Sims, Skype, are all great examples of how amateur individuals, have been able to establish cultural trends, new marketplaces and an enormous number of products and services without ever leveraging the traditional business approach that traditional businesses would take.
"Passionate amateurs, empowered by technology and linked to one another, are reshaping business, politics, science, and culture.
In the developing world, Pro-Ams are solving a historical scarcity of professional resources. The Grameen Bank, founded by Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi economics professor, trains barefoot bankers to deliver loans to people earning less than a dollar a day. This Pro-Am workforce makes it possible to cost-effectively administer 2.8 million loans worth more than $4 billion. Had Grameen relied on professionals, it would have reached a tiny proportion of the population."
Pro-Am creative artists, musicians, videomakers and writers are starting to realize that they need not anymore have audiences of millions to turn a sustainable profit, as the revolution taking place in online marketing and distribution gives them thousands new ways to slash previous production and marketing costs to near zero.
"As music marketplaces like Apple's iTunes Music Store open up to individual producers of songs and podcasts, and as video marketplaces evolve (two to watch are Cambridge-based Brightcove Networks and California's Open Media Network), prosumers may be able reach larger audiences and potentially even turn a profit."
(Source Article: Boston Globe)
Of course, and I have seen this with my own eyes, most executives and professionals will find this rather unsettling, if they can at all believe and look with objective eyes at the hard facts this silent movement has been generating for years now.
But as soon as they realize what is happening, executives feel an unsettling sensation. One that I think it is all the more real: somebody is slowly and silently taking over their place.
Knowledge is increasingly accessible, thanks to the Internet, and if someone is serious about finding out something there is now enough information and individuals willing to help, that seeking intellectual enlightenment and competitive know-how only within the established education system is like searching for new forms of underwater life in a swimming pool. Information of all kinds is now widely distributed, accessible and not controlled in a few ivory towers.
"At the same time, peer power presents difficult challenges for anyone invested in the status quo.
Corporations, those citadels of command-and-control, may be in for the biggest jolt. Increasingly, they will have to contend with ad hoc groups of customers who have the power to join forces online to get what they want.
Indeed, customers are creating what they want themselves -- designing their own software with colleagues, for instance, and declaring their opinions via blogs instead of waiting for newspapers to print their letters."
Is your business ready for this?
Are you watching this phenomenon from the outside or are you riding the new opportunities that it offers?
What happens to your industry when this trend takes bigger proportions and Pro-Ams become serious competitors to your own offerings?
"It's the democratization of industry," says C.K. Prahalad, a University of Michigan Stephen M. Ross School of Business professor and co-author of the 2004 book The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value with Customers. "We are seeing the emergence of an economy of the people, by the people, for the people."
(Source article: BusinessWeek)
Can you stop people from wanting to learn and understand more about how things are done or created?
Can you prevent smart and intelligent individuals from figuring out better an more effective ways to offer content, entertainment and services that were not possible only because the big guys had a practically a monopoly on communications?
"O'Reilly Media recently launched what has already become the bible of this new movement, a magazine called Make. It features page after page of geeked-out--but not unachievable--how-tos; the latest issue details the finer points of crafting your own printed circuit board or building your own teleprompter (anticipating the inevitable rise of video blogging). O'Reilly initially estimated that it could snare about 10,000 people willing to pay the steep $35 a year for the quarterly. Now, four months after the launch--and with almost no advertising--it already has 25,000 subscribers."
(Source article: Fortune)
So, what is that passionate amateurs, really want and why?
"Prosumers don't create in order to make money - many (probably most) offer their content for free.
What they want are the tools - preferably the best tools possible - to help them create, and a place to share their work.
This is where future business opportunities[omit] lie - not in providing content, but in helping the new prosumer create content."
(Source: Stephen Downes - OLDaily)
As far as why these individuals want to create and share their vision, the reason is to be found in a new awareness and realization that sweeps and threads all of these creative people: for the first time in the history of this planet (or at least the one that we officially know) each one of them feels that via their own ideas, creations, new products and tools, they can participate in a tangible way in shaping and modeling the future we are going to inhabit.
They are the Reality Producers.
If you want to learn more about this fascinating topic, I highly recommend this 70-page research report about Pro-Ams. It contains great real-life examples, interviews and statistical that gives a clear and comprehensive picture of amateur professionals and their major role in the new society that is rapidly emerging.
The 20th century was shaped by the rise of professionals.
But now a new breed of amateurs has emerged . . .
The Pro-Am Revolution
How enthusiasts are changing our economy and society
by Charles Leadbeater, Paul Miller
315 KB - PDF
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Actually, Open Source and Open Content aren't underground... haven't been for a while. And P2P, despite the lobbyists, is still running strong.
Good stuff, as usual, Robin. Those of us plying the fringes of this mass movement are always pleased to see a new exegesis of these ideas. Thanks.