Stephen Shapiro on Edison’s 700 non-failures

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Stephen Shapiro makes the point that the tendency by R&D organisations to puppet Edison’s famous claim are essentially justifying their own mistakes.

This is not to say that R&D organisations should be expected to get everything right in the first place – this is plainly absurd – but that developers who get to useful solutions with fewer mistakes will often do better than those who make more. There is, of course, no way to measure this.

Stephen has been banging the drum about crowd-sourcing and, in this post, makes the point that crowd-sourcing will save an organisation a large part of this cost. There is, of course, more to it. I added this comment to his post:

You’ve missed another important consequence of having large numbers of people [able to] look at a problem (other than just “how much it costs you”).

The odds that the each of the people best able to fix all of the different problems that come up in a project (soonest, least effort, most correct result, most efficient result, ….) are present in a single organisation are vanishingly small. This is the basis of Torvalds’ “with enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow” mentality and the immense lead that open-source projects have over most closed-source ones on robustness and security.

There are, of course, other qualitative aspects of what gets delivered that matter (performance/efficiency, fit-and-finish) that are often served very poorly by this approach.

I suspect that similar benefits and limits apply to crowd-sourcing in other domains.

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