After a month of cranking out a 50K-word novel for NaNoWriMo, I’m back to that stolid mistress, the PublicOrgTheory blog, but it’s not with good news.
I was an early fan of the crowdsourced tablet computer project at TechCrunch. It seemed to me to reflect the best of what enthusiastic amateurs could do. The crowd was committed, knowledgeable, and ambitious. This is what I wrote at the time:
It’s hard to dismiss the success of the successful crowdsourced projects, and hard to ignore the many more that have failed. Taken as a whole, though, this would seem a legitimate area of interest for org studies, especially among those who focus on theories of groups. Despite the restrictive definition some use of groups as necessarily requiring physical proximity, these collaborations are exhibiting behavior and output. It’s time to rule them in.
In the year since that post, crowdsourcing has really taken hold as a legitimate business model with some interesting variations. There’s also satire, which indicates to me that an idea has real traction.
Alas, the tablet project died yesterday:
It was so close I could taste it. Two weeks ago we were ready to publicly launch the CrunchPad. The device was stable enough for a demo. It went hours without crashing. We could even let people play with the device themselves – the user interface was intuitive enough that people “got it” without any instructions. And the look of pure joy on the handful of outsiders who had used it made the nearly 1.5 year effort completely worth it.
Mostly though I’m just sad. I never envisioned the CrunchPad as a huge business. I just wanted a tablet computer that I could use to consume the Internet while sitting on a couch. I’ve always pushed to open source all or parts of the project. So this isn’t really about money. It was about the thrill of building something with a team that had the same vision. Now that’s going to be impossible.
That’s truly sad. The problem, detailed at length in the post, appears to be that one of the vendors took a look at the intellectual property and said “hey, we could just sell that ourselves without involving these people.” If that’s how it happened–and the e-mails seem pretty clear to me–that vendor has reminded us of why ethics matters in business. They would also have tanked one of the best exemplars of high-quality crowdsourcing.
I don’t know, but I will assume for a moment that Arrington and TechCrunch had strong legal with all the parties (and, if so, a legitimate claim against the vendor), especially given the size and acumen of some of them. Ultimately, that doesn’t matter, though–a potentially great product with a transformative business model will never see the light of day. That sucks.