Clive Thompson

Clive Thompson on the Hybrid T-Shirt Economy

Cameron Parkins, December 2nd, 2008

A great article in the most recent WIRED, Clive Thompson on How T-Shirts Keep Online Content Free, discusses the growing hybrid economy developed by purveyors of free content looking for a stable source of income. Their answer? Schwag in general, t-shirts in particular:

Increasingly, creative types are harnessing what I’ve begun to call “the T-shirt economy”—paying for bits by selling atoms. Charging for content online is hard, often impossible. Even 10 cents for a download of something like Red vs. Blue might drive away the fans. So instead of fighting this dynamic, today’s smart artists are simply adapting to it.

Their algorithm is simple: First, don’t limit your audience by insisting they pay to see your work. Instead, let your content roam freely online, so it generates as large an audience as possible. Then cash in on your fans’ desire to sport merchandise that declares their allegiance to you.

While Thompson doesn’t mention CC directly (he does mention Jonathan Coulton, a CC-staff favorite and current partner in our fundraising drive), he hints at the mentality behind our CC+ initiative and generally argues that openness is an important component of functional business models going forward.

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WIRED on Arduino and Open Source Computing

Cameron Parkins, October 22nd, 2008

WIRED Magazine just published a fascinating article by Clive Thompson on Arduino, a company that manufactures an open source computing platform of the same name.

Schematics for the Arduino chip are released under a CC BY-SA license, meaning that home-brewed Arduino chips have popped up in “open source synthesizers, MP3 players, guitar amplifiers, and even high-end voice-over-IP phone routers”. The article is brimming with anecdotes and examples on how giving away these schematics ahs been a huge help to Arduino economically, ethically, and creatively. In regards to their initial motivations, Thompson writes:

[T]he Arduino inventors decided to start a business, but with a twist: The designs would stay open source. Because copyright law—which governs open source software—doesn’t apply to hardware, they decided to use a Creative Commons license called Attribution-Share Alike. It governs the “reference designs” for the Arduino board, the files you’d send to a fabrication plant to have the boards made.

Under the Creative Commons license, anyone is allowed to produce copies of the board, to redesign it, or even to sell boards that copy the design. You don’t need to pay a license fee to the Arduino team or even ask permission. However, if you republish the reference design, you have to credit the original Arduino group. And if you tweak or change the board, your new design must use the same or a similar Creative Commons license to ensure that new versions of the Arduino board will be equally free and open.

On the topic of open-source economics, the Arduino team has some phenomenal insight on lessons they have learned:

[Arduino] makes little off the sale of each board—only a few dollars of the $35 price, which gets rolled into the next production cycle. But the serious income comes from clients who want to build devices based on the board and who hire the founders as consultants.

“Basically, what we have is the brand,” says Tom Igoe, an associate professor at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University, who joined Arduino in 2005. “And brand matters.”

What’s more, the growing Arduino community performs free labor for the consultants. Clients of Banzi’s design firm often want him to create Arduino-powered products. For example, one client wanted to control LED arrays. Poking around online, Banzi found that someone in France had already published Arduino code that did the job. Banzi took the code and was done.

The whole article is absolutely fascinating and worth a read for anyone in the CC community – interested in computer hardware or not. You can learn more about Arduino at their website.

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