The internet, for all it’s vices, has made the world an incredibly small place. I buy books from Seattle, business cards from London and storage space from San Diego. I chat with friends in New Zealand, India, Finland and Joburg on a daily basis. At ground level the online economy seems pretty stable. Online businesses are lean, mean, fighting machines forged in the dot-bomb furnace. Compared to the sumo wrestling auto industry we’re Ethiopian long distance runners. (Enough with the analogies now)
The offline world however is in a crisis, big corporations are falling over on a weekly basis… most of them failing due to fat cat, short sighted management, while others are just innocent victims of the carpet bombing that is this economic train wreck.
Then I read things like this. George Oates, one of the key people and designer at Flickr, got let go by Yahoo, who bought flickr a few years ago. It’s not so much the fact that they let George go, but rather they way they did it… Basically getting her manager to call her while she was overseas and read a message to her from a scripted “cheers” letter. Her blog post about the ordeal is brutal. Within 14 hours of the call she had lost all her privileged access to all that was flickr; something that had been the centre of her life for many many years.
George’s story is the logical conclusion of the ‘corporatised’ world that we’ve all bought into… and I think the world is starting to see the folly in supporting a system that can turn around and kick you out when you least expect or deserve it.
I have this sense that people are starting to dislike, and distrust, big corporations. In the 50’s and 60’s corporations were the saviours of the failing economy, hell, if you could work for a corporation you were sitting pretty… Working for a corporation meant you had a stable job and even though all you got for 50 years of service was a hundred dollar watch (who needs a watch when you’re retired anyway?), you were happy to have had the job.
But the world is different now, for whatever reasons people expect more from life than just ‘having a job’. We want to have fun, be challenged, enjoy working, laugh, be successful and get home on time to have make supper for our smiling kids and watch 30 Rock on Tivo.
So where does this leave the workforce? Well, the internet is making *not* working for a corporation easier and easier. Now days your small print shop in a side street of London can turn into an international brand with customers from Tibet to Texas, but, most importantly, that small print shop doesn’t need to become a overweight corporation in order to carry on being successful. It’s the long tail global customer effect. Hell, you could sell clothing for conjoined twins on the internet and still swing a profit.
Perhaps more interestingly though, the internet has made running your own company a lot easier. Re-read that last sentence. The internet has been around for almost a gabillion years now, but it seems like only in the last 5 years has the promise of “running an online business from your garage” come true.
Perhaps the supreme irony of the situation is that Yahoo itself was once a small company that got big, and in turn bought up flickr, the blood, sweat and tears of a small team, most of whom have subsequently left Yahoo or been fired. How different life would have been for all those people who gave birth to flickr, if they’d just stayed a small team who focused on being the best and staying happy while doing it…
Corporations have been holding the workforce hostage… but the distributed client base and self organisation of the internet is starting to make it harder and harder to not start your own thing, or join a small company with big vision.
Similarly customers are more and more looking for micro providers, buying local produce, supporting up and coming manufacturers and looking to identify themselves as unique by buying products that weren’t made in batches of a million. Perhaps it’s the inherent knowledge that the companies that are producing t-shirts in batches of a million are run by the same kind of people that will fire you from the very company you helped start and feel nothing while doing it.
You’re a person… let the machines be the robots. The revolution is coming, and it won’t be televised, it’ll be broadcast.