Waterfalls, Eyeballs and the Power of the Overheard Conversation
When I first started i-OP, one of my tasks was choosing the tools our team would use to collaborate. My developers insisted that newsgroups – what we now call forums – were the right way to communicate as a company.
It struck me as odd at the time, but I trusted them, and a good thing, too. What my developers taught me was the same lesson that Microsoft learned the hard way when Linux started to move in on their territory.
Linux is open source, developed in a large part collaboratively via the network of newsgroups known as USEnet. The beauty of a newsgroup is that discussions are overheard by others, who can introduce new ideas and possibilities. This is especially important in software development, because it’s just about impossible to know all the requirements and obstacles before you start. The job description constantly changes, so the top-down waterfall model just isn’t flexible enough. You need eyeballs all over the place to find and kill the bugs and suggest new approaches.
Linux was and remains a great model of the value network method of creating, as opposed to the traditional value chain method. Value networks allow for a faster innovation clockspeed, which is why, in just 5 years, Linux was able to take on wealthiest corporation in the world.
These days USEnet, though still around, has largely given way to a new generation of Web-based collaboration platforms which still nevertheless exploit the power of the overheard conversation.
In my next post I’ll talk a bit about how social networking fits – and doesn’t fit – into the value network model.