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There’s a book for that!

February 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Since I am always recommending books to my friends and colleagues, my digital-native friends have decided that instead of the popular phrase “there’s an app for that,” I need to act my age and say “there’s a book for that!” And so, I naturally considered the Amazon Kindle™ as my favorite, interactive ‘big idea.’ Until I realized that there is a much bigger, more practical, ‘reading-inspired’ and interactive product that I use every day.

In fact, every month 65 million people acquire at least one of the 3,186,664 different ‘stock numbers’ of this product. In my entire life, I am not likely to find a product that represents such a price-value relationship because this product is free and is not for sale. None of the company’s products ever wears out and each is constantly added to and improved.

The company has grown into the top ten in its field and yet never advertises. It uses 85,000 product developers who are adding new products every day. The management and the workers care deeply about the quality of their work but they do not expect anyone to fully trust them. What is it?

Wikipedia™ turned a mere nine years old in January of 2010 and continues to write one of the most interesting and record-setting success stories. What has to impress is that more than 10 million users contributed to that milestone. This kind of growth is not bad for a service originally conceived as an afterthought to Nupedia, a failed first attempt by Internet entrepreneur Jimmy Wales and philosopher Lawrence Sanger at creating a free online encyclopedia.

Starting out as Nupedia in 2000, the plan was for it to feature expert-written, peer-reviewed content, not unlike Microsoft’s Encarta. But Nupedia suffered from a major problem: a lack of speed. In its first six months, only two articles made it through the process. To spur better production, Sanger suggested creating a counterpart that anyone could contribute to without editorial review. Wikipedia.com went live on Jan. 15, 2001, and the new model quickly eclipsed its older sibling. It’s now the largest encyclopedia on the planet and it’s still free to anyone with access to the web.

Microsoft, on the other hand, finally closed down its Encarta project last March. It was to be the greatest encyclopedia of all time written by paid experts in every field. Heavily financed, advertised and finally launched in 1993, 8 years ahead of free Wikipedia, fee-based Encarta should have succeeded with its traditional business model. It should have been recognized as a superior value, accurate product offering fast computer and web-access to information. Wikipedia, on the other hand, applied the ‘long tail’ principles of enticing ‘free’ content providers who have a self-motivated purpose to offer their mastery of a topic in autonomous conditions. The stick and carrot motivators of the information age are replaced with the self-motivated, right-brained thinking of the conceptual age. Not only is the new, open source world faster, most of it is free.

Wikipedia.org is such a big idea that there ought to be a book for that!

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