Episodes of Collective Invention
The process of developing technology through open discussion has been called collective invention. Open source software projects have this form. This paper documents two earlier episodes of collective invention and proposes a general model based on search theory. One episode was the development of mass production steel in the U.S. (1866-1885), and the second with early personal computers (1975-1985). Technical people openly discussed and shared these developing technologies between firms. Collective invention episodes begin with an invention or a change in legal restrictions. Hobbyists and startup firms experiment with practical methods of production and share their results through a social network whose members gradually form a new industry. The network itself may disappear if the firms then keep their R&D secret. A model of an innovation search can describe this process if it is expanded to include independent hobbyists and consultants as well as profit-seeking firms.
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