The Internet is full of examples of "crowdsourcing" -- that is, taking the "wisdom" of the masses and using it to apply knowledge in a particular direction. There are crowdsourced encyclopedias, journalism, commercials and, heck, T-shirt designs. But what about laptops?
Yesterday, Intel and Asus announced a new site, WePC.com, which allows anyone to contribute ideas on how to build a new laptop. You submit a written description of a computer that you'd like to see built, and if enough people like the idea and vote favorably for it, Intel will power it and Asus will build it.
In flipping through the site, I saw a few ideas I like: "light manipulating LCD screen to give a clear image in all light environment," or a LowJack PC. But some of the ideas are a bit out-there, like a laptop with a built-in scanner and photo printer. Neat, but honestly, how practical (not to mention expensive) would a computer like this actually be?
I guess my gut reaction is that with so many in the crowd contributing ideas, wouldn't this quickly turn into the hardware version of too many cooks in the kitchen? I can foresee how this could easily turn into the Dr. Frankenstein computer, with weird features and appendages that cost $5,000 -- something that no one wants, and no one would buy. In other words, this machine could be the exact opposite of any Apple computer.
To be sure, I checked in with my buddy David Cohn, a cheerleader for crowdsourcing, and the founder of Spot.us, an upcoming crowd-funded journalism site.
"There are some things you don't want crowdsourced," he admitted in an IM interview.
"Brain surgery, for example -- if I'm going to have brain surgery done to me, I'd prefer a single doctor over a roomful of smart people any day of the week. Same with flying a plane: I'll take the pilot. It's hard to know what things require experts and what can benefit from crowdsourcing -- because without a doubt the crowd does do some things better. Design can be one of them -- but I think in the end you need somebody at the steering wheel. It's hard to tell what the organization of this will be like from the press release. If they go with an InnoCentive model -- all suggestions welcome, but only one solution is picked -- then it'll work."
Indeed, that seems to be the approach this contest is taking. Intel and Asus say there will be prizes "announced at a later date."
Still, I'm curious to see if any of these crowdsourced machines will actually get built and will sell in any respectable quantity.