I can’t remember where I read about Chris Anderson’s recent book Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, but the premise intrigued me enough to buy a copy. It’s a book about how desktop manufacturing and 3D printing could revolutionise the way we make and sell things; the bits have already undergone huge change in the last fifty years, but what about the atoms?
“Even the simple act of posting online is a way of occupying what were once factories. Today your PC is seamlessly connected to warehouse-sized server farms (the “cloud”) that allow you to access massive-scale computing in an instant. You may not think of a simple Google search as an act of harnessing insustrial-sized computing, but until a few decades ago you’d have needed access to a multimillion-dollar supercomputer to search that much data. And if you’ve ever seen one of Google’s server farms, you’ll know that the factory comparison is not far off–they are the size of a city block. Now these are open to all to publish or retrieve their every notion globally, for free.
So there you have it: the industrial machinery of the biggest twentieth-century media empires transformed into the sort of thing that you can command from your laptop. Yesterday the biggest computing facilities in the world were working for the government, huge companies, and research labs. Today they’re working for you. That is what the “desktop” wrought.”
And suddenly, we all had to become experts.
“When desktop publishing was first introduced, tens of thousands of people discovered that they knew nothing about fonts, kerning, text flow, anchors, and all that; they had to learn a couple of centuries’ worth of publishing terms and techniques overnight. Many garish documents with a dog’s breakfast of typefaces ensued, but so did an explosion of creativity that ultimately led to today’s Web.”
I’m a relative newcomer to SEO and digital marketing, so I can’t speak with the authority of someone who’s been in the business for many years. But from the many articles, blog posts, and books I’ve read, it strikes me that this industry has had to grow up, fast: from trying to game Google’s algorithms to quickly learning that this is about more than just links, we’ve learned that in order to future-proof our efforts we need to employ some more traditional marketing methods. Which means learning pretty quickly.
Case in point: just this morning I learnt what discovering a brand essence involved.
One thing I very much appreciate about this industry is its openness and willingness to share new techniques, tools, and knowledge. I’m not the first person to say this, and I’m sure I won’t be the last. But in his book, Chris makes a compelling argument for this model of sharing information and ideas freely, without worrying about competitors getting their hands on it.
After all, he lists several ways in which it would actually have been beneficial for his company (which deals in atoms) to be copied by overseas manufacturers:
Countless blog posts on Distilled and SEOMoz and many others give away tools that they have built for free, whether just a Google Apps script or an Excel macro or a spreadsheet in Google Drive which makes use of APIs, with no license or protection whatsoever.
We are constantly sharing tips, creating new ways to measure things (and explaining how we calculate them), and writing detailed articles on how to solve problems, in practical terms. Of course, a useful tool is potentially a great way to get relevant, natural links, and along with a boost in exposure this is often payment enough.
In this way, Chris’ proposed new revolution in the way in which physical manufacturing takes place is relevant to our industry, too. He goes on to talk about communities around products, and how creating this environment of open innovation can prove to be the most effective, economic, and profitable way of developing a product:
“Openness, in fact, is exactly what Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers intended when they made the Patent Act one of their first orders of business in the new United States of America in 1790, a year after the Constitution was ratified. As they saw it, the point of a patent–a guaranteed monopoly granted for a limited time–was not primarily to ensure that the inventor made money; after all, they could do that more easily by keeping the invention a trade secret. Instead, it was to encourage the inventor to share that invention publicly so that others could learn from it. The only way an inventor could license a patent was if he or she published it, ensuring that society as a whole could benefit from the invention. (Science works in the same way, with credit and career advancement depending on publication in journals.)
Today, inventors increasingly share their innovations publicly without any patent protection at all. That is what open source, Creative Commons, and all the other alternatives to traditional intellectual property protection do. Why do they do so? Because the creators believe they get back more in return than they give away: free help in developing their inventions. People tend to join promising open projects, and when these projects are shared, the contributions are automatically shared, too. Inventors also get feedback as well as help in promotion, marketing, and fixing bugs. And they accrue “social capital,” a combination of attention and reputation (goodwill) that can be used at a future date to advance the inventor’s interests.”
While inventors and founders may trade in research, development, and promotion, and we may trade in links and likes and mentions, we’re all getting there the same way – by talking to each other and sharing our knowledge.
But this is easy for the agencies, right? We’re just preaching to the choir. Let’s get everyone else signed up, too, and then things can start getting really interesting.
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