Does online collaboration have anything in store for the Economy?

While the world belabors to adapt to new ways of life in the wake of the pandemic, many have voiced, with a sense of nostalgia, the kind of disruption the pandemic has brought to traditional organization of post-industrial production. Should such disruptions be received with a sense of apprehension or with an attitude of openness to the unfamiliar yet creative possibilities they promise?

While the world of work struggles hard to break habit and incorporate necessary changes, partly becoming more efficient, and partly complacent, entrepreneurial mindsets have quickly identified and taken measures to seize opportunities to align working methods to the new spatially altered and physically constrained work environments. But rather than only closing a few doors, the opportunity has opened a few new windows. Some corners of the world of product and service creation and have been able to bypass bottlenecks and take over from where traditional approaches hit the dead-end.

A case in point are social platforms that enable creators and producers dispersed over diverse geographies connect with relative ease and work on collaborative projects in areas like product design, scientific data informatics, software development and entertainment and broadcasting. If nothing, the pandemic has proven to be a catalyst for productive (earlier read as only ‘meaningful’) online collaboration.

Case in point are new platforms like WikiFactory, GitHub, MyMiniFactory, Thingiverse and several others. You may have run across their aggressive promotions on social media like Facebook and YouTube. With a burgeoning user base, these collaborative platforms are bringing together communities of creative and industrious individuals and helping them create product and service solutions for a variety of sectors and fields.

From Medical 3D printing software, to additive manufacturing, to mobile application development – communities on these platforms have been working on diverse areas of product innovation; innovation being the buzzword in all industries and sectors in the past decade or two.

In releasing innovation and creation from the confines and boundaries of laboratories, factory workshops and even thought-leadership conferences, online collaboration is fast building its own norms and practices of industrial contribution. Whilst innovations coming through from these online “factories” must still run through the same process of patenting, promotion, manufacturing or replication, and adoption, it has to a great extent freed experimentation from dictation by corporate and government boards.

Multi-million-dollar corporations as well as governmental agencies have been pushing innovation and development onto the industrial map aggressively and in a sustained manner; however, none had so far been able to provide concretely solutions that could up-scale innovativeness in society and economy. Whether the distributed model of product creation, promoted by startups and platforms supporting online collaboration, can scale up innovativeness or not remains to be seen. But it definitely seems to be a step in the right direction.

Girija Shankar Semuwal, Assistant Professor, Unitedworld School of Liberal Arts and Mass Communication (USLM)

Disclaimer: The opinions / views expressed in this article are solely of the author in his / her individual capacity. They do not purport to reflect the opinions and/or views of the College and/or University or its members.

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