The Myth of \"User-Created\"

The Slashdot title reads, "Microsoft To Enable User-Created Xbox 360 Games," but to me this is something a little bigger. The world used to be divided into "consumers" (users) and "producers" of content, but this distinction has been disappearing. In fact, it's always been completely nonsensical to talk about a consumer creating something - someone who creates something is, by definition, a producer of that thing. A better title would have been "Microsoft Lowers the Barrier to Developing Xbox 360 Games."

Consider the GP2X I recently purchased. This is a handheld gaming system based on Linux whose documentation and SDK are freely available. Anyone can create commercial or free software for this platform. Who are the users and who are the producers? Most of the people who make or port games for the GP2X also like to play games on it. And isn't most open source software essentially user created?

People throw around words like "democratization," but in my opinion things are just moving toward where they naturally belong. When software/video/music/books/etc. become cheap to produce, it's only natural for production of these things to move away from centralized, specialized production firms to smaller, more ad hoc groups and individuals.

It's all well and good for me to say this in hindsight, so let me make a prediction (though I'm cheating): manufacturing. Assuming our economy survives and government doesn't protect Big Labor at the expense of the future, manufacturing is going to come back to the United States in a very big way in the form of small shops that make heavy use of rapid prototyping, small volume runs, etc. Individuals will be able to produce things at home that used to require large factories, months of lead time, and run quantities in the millions.

This won't necessarily happen through predictable means, either; people can't produce ASICs at home, but FPGAs, DSPs, microcontrollers, microprocessors, and combinations thereof are now reaching performance and power consumption levels that allow them to be used for applications that used to only be practical with ASICs. These advances have allowed people to, for example, build radios with their PCs and general purpose hardware that are capable of receiving HDTV without needing any HDTV-specific electronics, thus making the broadcast flag essentially useless.

The end result is going to be a huge proliferation of niche manufactured products you've never heard of. Your neighbor's TV or your mom's cellphone might come out of a small shop in Las Vegas that only makes a few hundred a year. You'll be able to buy a car with exactly the features you want, no more, no less, and you'll never see someone else driving the same car. Call it democratization if you want. I'll just call it capitalism.

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