Ideagora

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The term "ideagora" is used to describe a type of online community known as a “marketplace for minds”. The word comes from “agora,” an ancient Greek marketplace or forum, with the addition of “idea” making it a marketplace or forum for ideas and innovation. The so-named ideagora is becoming increasingly important as businesses are beginning to use the scientists and problem-solvers on the Internet to find solutions to the problems they are facing.

History

Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams (2007) coined the term ideagora in their book Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything [1] and the series of Wikinomics articles they contributed to Business Week in February, 2007. While in the past, companies have sought out and hired problem solvers individually, Tapscott and Williams discussed new ways to solve problems. “Companies seeking solutions to seemingly insoluble problems can tap the insights of hundred of thousands of enterprising scientists without having to employ everybody full-time. This shift is rippling through Corporate America and changing the way companies invent and develop products and services.” [2] Solutions are not free, however, as businesses may pay a problem solver several thousand dollars for a few hours of their time.


One of the first businesses to try the ideagora concept was Toronto-based gold mining company Goldcorp. The company was failing and had ended mining operations, as a substantial new gold deposit could not be found. Because in-house geologists weren’t finding a solution to the problem, company CEO Rob McEwen went online. He published all geological data known about the property and offered a total of $575,000 in prize money to problem-solvers who submitted the best methods for finding new gold. Within a few weeks, McEwen’s challenge was met and the company was saved from bankruptcy. Tapscott and Williams told the story of Goldcorp, adding that the company is not the first company to go open-source and seek solutions online, but is the first non-Internet company to take advantage of the ideagora. “McEwen realized the unique qualified minds to make new discoveries were probably outside the boundaries of his organization, and by sharing some intellectual property he could harness a powerful new force – mass collaboration. In doing so, he stumbled, successfully, into the future of innovation, business, and how wealth and just about everything else will be created.” [3]

Why ideagora?

To answer the question of why companies would need to look outside their own employee base for help, Tapscott and Williams said established companies cannot keep up with innovations and growth by relying only on internal capabilities. “For a $70 billion company like [Procter & Gamble, Co.], organic growth of 6%, for example, would require building a profitable new $4 billion business every year!” [2] With the ideagora, however, the company can get a solution from one individual, pay them and move on. In addition, Tapscott and Williams point out that many problem-solvers are now located in areas like Brazil, China, India and Eastern Europe. Also, the brightest researchers are tending to work outside the traditional business setting, so their minds can only be tapped through the ideagora’s marketplace of connections. [2]


Robert Hof (2005) offered examples of companies, such as Eli Lilly & Co., Hewlett-Packard Co., and Dow Chemical Co., which have taken advantage of the mass collaboration available online. “The potential benefits are enormous. If companies can open themselves up to contributions from enthusiastic customers and partners, that should help them create products and services faster, with fewer duds – and at a far lower cost, with far less risk.” [4]


Hof also suggested that companies are not only looking for development ideas, but are also interested in finding an ideagora of research and marketing strategies. The idea is that by gaining access to a million people online, they may find one or two to solve problems and help with strategies. “If they can get others to help them design and create products, they end up with ready-made customers – and that means far less risk in the tricky business of creating new goods and markets. So businesses are accessing the cyberswarm to improve everything from research and development to marketing.” [4]

Ideagoras in other contexts

While Tapscott and Williams looked at ideagoras from a business standpoint, others may argue that online communities themselves are ideagoras. In The Virtual Community, Howard Rheingold (2000) discussed the ideas and information gleaned from the WELL, one of the first well-known virtual communities. [5] Other online groups, such as blogs or discussion forums may also serve as ideagoras for individuals interested in those topics. In these areas, the individual is able to post a question or idea and other respond, answering the question or commenting on the idea.


Hof gave a different example of ideagoras in action when he discussed open-source Linux programmers and mass collaboration. “Indeed, peer production represents a … change in the economy – at least when it comes to the information products, services, and content that increasingly drives economic growth… Now cheap computers and new social software and services – along with the Internet’s ubiquitous communications that make it easy to pool those capital investments – are starting to give production back to the people.” [4] Organizations, such as the Free Software Foundation, encourage collaboration and improvement of software design, along with the liberty to run, play with, individualize and pass on software. [6]


Future impact of ideagoras

As suggested by Hof, Tapscott and Williams, the potential for businesses to tap into ideagoras continues to increase. As more individuals go online to solve problems, more companies will benefit from their ideas and solutions. Questions could be raised about what online ideagoras mean for company employees who have traditionally handled problem solving situations and how much businesses can rely on the “million minds” of the Internet community. Will ideagoras take the place of in-house problem solvers? Will the solutions provided by ideagoras continue to be profitable for companies or will problem solvers lose interest? Because of the relative newness of ideagoras, these questions have yet to be answered. The future of ideagoras is wide open and, at least in the view of Tapscott and Williams, is looking bright.


References

  1. Tapscott, D. & Williams, A. (2007). Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. Old Saybrook, CT: Tantor Media Inc.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Tapscott, D. & Williams, A. (2007). Ideagora, a Marketplace for Minds. Business Week, Feb. 15, 2007. Retrieved August 30, 2007, from http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/feb2007/id20070215_251519.htm?chan=search.
  3. Tapscott, D. & Williams, A. (2007). Innovation in the Age of Mass Collaboration. Business Week, February 1, 2007. Retrieved August 30, 2007, from http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/feb2007/id20070201_774736.htm?chan=search.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Hof, R. D. (2005) The Power of Us. Business Week, 3938.
  5. Rheingold, H. (2000). The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
  6. The Free Software Definition. (2007). Retrieved October 23, 2007, from http://www.fsf.org/licensing/essays/free-sw.html.