I read a nifty piece by Wikinomics authors, Don Tapscott and Anthony D Williams, this morning on the Guardian's website about some of the future uses of the internet. The article focuses on how business can use the power of the internet to dramatically improve their bottom line. Most of the examples given strive to harness a large user base to solve complicated problems. The computer industry calls this kind of stuff, 'Web 2.0'.
China's burgeoning motorbike industry isn't dominated by a handful of corporate behemoths employing thousands of employees, or outsourcing tasks to smaller subcontractors. Instead, a self-organized system has emerged in which many smaller companies collaborate to share the risks and the profits - often, admittedly, by copying Japanese designs.
When hobbyists started hacking the computerized parts at the heart of the Lego Mindstorms range, the toy company initially threatened to sue them. Then it had a change of heart, and started encouraging them to be 'prosumers': consumers who play far more than a superficial role in the creation of products.
The gold mine at Red Lake in Ontario, operated by Goldcorp, was ailing and facing collapse until its chief executive Rob McEwen heard a talk about Linus Torvalds, the Finnish inventor of the open-source computer operating system, Linux. Why not place Goldcorp's secret geological data on the internet, McEwen wondered, and see if there were experts outside the company who could suggest where to mine? The 'Goldcorp Challenge' reaped handsome profits, turning a company worth $100m into one worth $9bn.