I just finished reading the book "Cognitive Surplus" by NYU professor Clay Shirkey. While in general I do not post book reviews here, I really liked the book as it provides a great summary of the one question I often get from people after my presentations on customer co-creation:
"Who has all the time to contribute to ... ", with "..." to be replaced by a user idea contest by a company, an open hardware project, a Wikipedia edit, a LEGO Factory hack, a long co-design session in a nice mass customization configurator.Shirkey's answer on this question is covered in the first chapter of his book: There just is so much "cognitive surplus", i.e. all the free time we have in our recent modern society (for the first ime in the existence of mankind) and which we mostly waste for --- watching TV.
Every single year for the second half of the 20th century, the amount of television watched by humanity increased. Collectively, we now watch more than one trillion hours of television every year. US-Americans alone watch about 200 billion hours of television a year.
Just the 200bn of TV in the US represents, as Shirky notes, about 2,000 times the total human hours that have gone so far into creating Wikipedia. So just turning 1% (or even 0.1%) of the time invested into watching TV into participation already provides much capacity -- our "cognitive surplus" we can use to do something larger, more interactive and more participative than just watching TV.
At the same time, the cost for us to contribute also has dramatically been lowered thanks to the internet and devices and software helping us to interact. As a result, many new opportunities arise to participate in creativity and problem‑solving.
The remaining of the book is a nice summary of earlier literature on WHY people are motivated to participate in initiatives started by other people of commercial organizations, and often do so without demanding any monetary payment for their contributions. Here, Shirkey lays out nicely recent and older research on intrinsic and social motivation.
So, in conclusion, most arguments in the book are not new, but it provides a great review of research and a nice answer on "why the hell are people spending so much time in contributing to co-creation initiatives."