Online innovation is turning consumers into producers (Wired UK)


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This is a guest post by Eben Upton, CEO of the Raspberry Pi
Foundation, which makes pared down bare-bones computers
programmable for a range of scientific and technological
applications.

Innovation and invention have always been a key part of the
national character here in the UK. When you consider our history,
from the industrial revolution through to today’s high technology
clusters, you can see a rich tapestry of both. Fast forward to
2014, and much of the innovation we see is linked to the online
world. And as the internet takes an ever more prominent role in
daily life, with 80 percent of UK adults having access to the internet from home, I believe we’re seeing a new
wave of brilliant ideas.

This year, I was asked to be a judge for the eighth Nominet Internet Awards
(NIA), an event which celebrates the UK’s best internet
initiatives, with a particular emphasis on those that are making a
positive difference to people’s lives. When reading through the
entries, I was looking for that special spark; an idea which not
only raised awareness of an issue, but actively engaged people in
helping to solve it. It was a pleasure seeing so many clever,
helpful ideas from so many varied entrants — and what I saw left
me in no doubt that the innovative spirit of our ancestors is alive
and well.

The internet as a tool for innovation

If you have an entrepreneurial personality, the UK is a great
place to develop your idea. The government here is hugely
supportive of startups. It provides the framework, funding and
support needed to help launch an entrepreneurial project,
especially if that project has the potential to benefit others.

This support, coupled with the broader demographic of people
regularly going online, means that internet projects and start-ups
have great potential to thrive. A trend particularly close to my
heart which is driving innovation is the increasing ease with which
people can form affinity groups online. At Raspberry Pi we’ve been
hugely encouraged by the growth of groups like CoderDojo, a volunteer-led, global
collective of free clubs that help people learn how to code.
Learning how to code is rapidly becoming a necessary skill;
CoderDojo illustrates what’s possible today when you have a
geographically dispersed group of people who share a passion or
common interest. With so many of us — and not just techie people,
but families, kids and pensioners — now online, with advanced
browsers and social media communities that allow practically anyone
to communicate and collaborate in real time, any type of affinity
group has the potential to grow into a global collective and make a
real difference in whatever subject they specialise in.

Two entries in the Nominet Internet Awards caught my attention
in this way by tapping into two of the most natural affinity groups
in anyone’s life — the family and the classroom. The first is Techmums. Using the insight that
some mums are intimidated by technology and are worried about the
negative impact it might have on them and their children, Techmums
was created to help show mums the positive side of the internet,
alongside teaching them how to educate their children to be safe
online. Another entry which impressed me was Achievers
International
, a young enterprise platform which connects
school children around the world. It allows students to create a
business, network with other students around the world, and import
and export goods, teaching children business and IT skills.

Without the internet, neither of these ideas would be possible
on the same scale. And in both cases, the people running them
aren’t computer science graduates or international corporation:
they’re everyday people, like mums and students. We have to make
sure this spirit is passed on to the next generation, which is why
skills and education are so crucial.

Climbing the ladder

A big challenge I believe this government has is transforming
people who consume content online into people who create content.
At the moment, the experiences people have online tend not to drive
this behavioural change. But as the online world continues to grow,
the web is going to continue working its way into every part of our
lives. Every job will require some form of technical knowledge of
the web; at the very least, having that knowledge will give you an
advantage over your peers.

What is encouraging is that the education system is already
geared for change. In September, coding will
become part of the National Curriculum
and will become
mandatory in all state secondary and primary schools. This is key,
because although I think the outlook for our tech sector has
improved, I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet. This will
encourage children to be motivated to climb up the ladder from a
young age, training a new generation of creative engineers who can
create their own technologies in the future. It’s vastly important
that we tackle the problem; if we don’t fix it, it’ll kill us.

Another reason I’m optimistic is the proliferation of so many
small internet start-ups, some of which are recognised on the NIA
shortlist. Although they might not become the next Google or
Microsoft, it’s just as important to foster these small companies
and grow them, rather than putting all of our eggs in to two or
three IBM-sized baskets. It’s these small companies which have the
potential to benefit small groups of people who normally wouldn’t
be reached by larger companies. The vacuum cleaner is hardly the
most glamorous of household items, but James Dyson’s innovative
cyclone idea was so successful simply because it made life easier
and was well-designed. To me, that is what is so good about online
British innovation. It’s simple, well thought-through and most
importantly, helps others — long may it continue!

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25 July 2014 | 12:00 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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