Reading Matt Moore’s interesting post about the relative importance of “creators” in a world of “co-creation”, I’m inclined to think the issue’s a lot deeper than we’re talking. The following is an uncut ramble, so please bear with me.
It’s self-evident and widely acknowledged that all new content (“creation”) is the product of several inputs plus the work of an author. Nothing is absolutely original. But like all absolutes, this one makes no sense: it hides as much as it reveals.
Web pages and blogs give a very handy example. Early home pages were often a collection of links: a personal favourites list. Most current blogs are “newsblogs” or collections of snippets of other source’s content, selected at their author’s whim. But you can also find “original content”: articles written entirely from scratch, researched first-hand, or otherwise work- and knowledge-intensive. Value-added content, in short.
Link collectors and newsbloggers do add some value (“co-create”) but they don’t add as much as their primary sources and other original writers: the “co-creation” is not equally “co-“.
Another example. When our dear friends at Joomla decided to consider that any plugin to their core CMS application was (intellectual property-wise) was a “derivative work”, they were implying the “co-creation” was drawing very heavily on previous work in order to build its value. Some people objected because their software components are ingenuous, innovative or plain useful enough to be considered non-derivative… that is to say, less “co-created”.
These are just a couple of examples, but I think we can agree that being “co-created”, as a tag, makes no sense: everything is, but that does not mean there are no serious differences between cases.
Matt goes on to talk about creative ecologies and the social character of creation. This does strike a chord and I believe it’s important. While I’m much keener on the role of the “catalyst” than Matt seems to be, I think the difference is a matter of definition.
In other words: if we look at who gets the action going, the content created and the innovation rolling, we find several actors. There is a final author (or a few authors) of the deed, there are contributors (who provide substantial parts of needed inputs), and there are catalysts (who set the conditions and provide support, encouragement, whip and/or funds, and occasionally even the vision). The rest… is “derivative work”.
Yes, there is “roll-out and implementation”, it is neccesary, and does add a lot of value. But it’s not on the same scale unless there is an uncustomary scarcity value, in which case the implementator becomes a contributor.
And yes, there is adoption, customization, commentary, critique. That is definitely “derivative work” at most.
In a nutshell
So, does the concept of “co-creation” mean that the role of the individuals directly involved in it is in any way equal to that of the 90% majority? Definitely not, I don’t think so.
Does “co-creation” mean that authors are just a piece of an ecology that gets things moving, one that can hardly work without support, and thus a bit less of a star and a bit more of a team player? I’d say yes, on most situations.
But does that mean authors are on the same level (as creative agents) with catalysts and contributors? No. They’re quite different beasts. They all shape a complex “ecology”, one that is worth watching and studying and nurturing. Because it does not easily happen in the middle of large consolidated organizations unless special conditions apply… and it’s quite evident that they are valuable.
We’ll have to revisit this matter.