The beginnings of the spread of networking go back no more

than 15 years but, in this short time, the evolution and market
penetration of Internet- and Web-based technologies have
been extremely rapid and have continuously accelerated,
except for the temporary interruption caused by the
crisis of the so-called “new economy” at the beginning
of this century (it is still diffcult to assess the effects of
the current crisis). The net has consequently changed its
appearance more than once over the last 15 years, and ICT
paradigms have undergone some dramatic modifcations:
it is enough to think of the completely different business
models pursued by the leading net players, particularly
Microsoft, Google and Apple.
For a number of years now, the confguration of the Web
has led to it becoming an enormous warehouse of not
only data and information, but also building blocks for the
construction of new systems and services.
These building blocks are essentially of two types:
• software components for variously complex functions
that can be combined with each other to create
applications and other higher-level components: as a
result of the development of ever-evolving integration
technologies and the standardisation of domain-
specifc communication protocols and interfaces, these
frequently (but not necessarily) open source elements
are becoming increasingly easier to put together even
without the aid of programming;
•various types and differently complex services that
are accessible through the net and often very easy to
Abstract
T
H
I
N
K!
The Innovation Knowledge Foundation
The Web as an
“Innovation Machine”
combine with each other as result of the development
of increasingly advanced mash-up technologies.
Starting from previously existing services offered
by various suppliers, these technologies make it
possible to construct more sophisticated services that
innovatively “mash” the functions and data managed
by the originals to provide added value. In many cases,
technically very simple and rapidly developed mash-
ups can provide substantial added value, as shown
by the now classic example of the textual real estate
advertisements geolocalised on Google maps.
This gigantic warehouse of low-cost, reusable building
blocks has signifcantly grown over the last fve years,
and is at least partially due to the efforts of a myriad of
voluntary designers who offer the results of their creativity
to the network community, and often allow their re-use,
modifcation and recirculation free of charge. This is
something new in technological evolution, and it is only
now that we are beginning to understand its effects.
All of these factors have greatly accelerated the process
of innovation, particularly in the case of ICT components
and services. This acceleration is traditionally considered
to be due to a set of positive feedback cycles generated
by the various forces operating in the market and the ICT
ecosystem. First of all, user needs give rise to new products
which, in their turn, create new needs. Then there is the
highly competitive nature of the ICT market, which compels
producers to supply increasingly more sophisticated
versions of a product in order to beat the competition.
The impetus of this “forced improvement” is further
reinforced by the manufacturers’ need to feed the market
for the replacement of their own products even when these
dominate their market segment (e.g. Microsoft Offce).
In addition, the evolution of technologies means that
This note considers networking (and the Web in particular) not so much as a result of innovation processes
but more as the main factor enabling innovation (a “machine for making innovations”), and uses this view to
draw some general conclusions .
T
H
I
N
K!
The Innovation Knowledge Foundation


T
H
I
N
K
!
The Innovation Knowledge Foundation
T
H
IN
K!
The Innovation Knowledge Foundation
The Web as an
“innovation machine”
1
T
H
IN
K!
The Innovation Knowledge Foundation
existing products are continuously being replaced by
others based on new-generation technologies, in a
complex system of reciprocal conditioning within the same
ecosystem of related technological products.
The above forces have always characterised hi-tech
markets but, in the case of Internet-related products,
another very powerful factor of acceleration is represented
by network effects. These explain why certain products or
services have an epidemic spread and acquire a planetary
dimension in a very short period of time (e.g. Facebook)
and can themselves generate vast subsidiary pipelines or
even whole new markets.
This acceleration is further encouraged by the availability of
new-generation tools that greatly simplify the development
of new applications (e.g. CMS for the creation of websites)
and, even more signifcantly, the large number of already
available building blocks and the ease with which they can
be incorporated into more complex applications. The use
of appropriate technologies makes it possible to create
functioning prototypes very easily, thus allowing innovators
to test various solutions at lower costs than could be
even imagined just a decade ago. These applications or
services are often made available in beta versions that are
continuously upgraded by involving users to contribute to
their further design and refnement in an ongoing virtuous
feedback circle.
Another factor accelerating the process of innovation is
social networking. It is extremely limiting to consider the
Web as a mere repository of components and services
avaialble to outsiders (the old slogan of “the network is the
computer”), because it is also a formidable vehicle for the
immediate circulation of ideas, experiences and solutions.
It is the most powerful means that humans have ever had
for creating associations and allowing collaboration within
communities of people. Before the coming of the Web, it was
only possible to learn about the products of technological
innovation by physically moving them or oneself. New
products were presented at large-scale international
events to which it was necessary to travel; new software
could only be tried by contacting distributors who arranged
for them to be delivered from their production sites. Less
than twenty years after those “distant” times, we can now
download software and gain access to any information from
our computers at home (often free of charge), or explore
whatever exists by means of increasingly intelligent search
tools. But not even these are the most important aspects.
What really makes things different from the past is the
possibility of communicating and collaborating with the
many different communities of the social Web. Innovators
have access to a myriad of specialised social networks,
subject forums, interest groups and blogs with which they
can interact or in some way cooperate; furthermore (and
T
H
I
N
K!
The Innovation Knowledge Foundation
this is another fundamental difference from the recent
past), they can upload the products of their creativity and
thus make them available to other innovators in virtually
real time, and search engines, cooperative reference sites
(above all Wikipedia) and various report mechanisms (RSS
feeds, microblogs…) are also available to help them fnd
their way through this continuously evolving galaxy.
In conclusion, everyone operating in the area of innovation
(particularly ICT innovation) has an enormous amount
of highly various resources available on the net that can
help them in their work: building blocks, tools of all types,
technico-scientifc publications, collections of desigm
patterns and project templates, demonstration videos,
and a vast range of social networks, subject forums and
blogs managed by individual designers who describe and
comment on their experiences, discuss them with each
other, put everyone in contact with everyone else, and
exchange the most interesting resources in practically real
time.

2

1


“ ”




It is of course a “globalised” machine. The resources are
distributed on the net and can be accessed from virtually
anywhere on Earth equipped with broadband Internet
connectivity. The physical location of its components,
including the infrastructures for the distribution of services,
is rarely known to the users, who also seldom know the
identity of the various suppliers contributing to the delivery
of a mash-up service. In many applicative situations, this
information is irrelevant; in others that have particular
security and protection requirements, the location of the
infrastructures and the chain of suppliers could be highly
critical.
Among other things, the widespread availability of project
building blocks is leading to a gradual but signifcant shift
away from specifcations, programming and testing to
research, experimentation, component integration and
the protyping of solutions. Innovators are increasingly
exploring the net in a search for fnished or semi-fnished
components that can be innovatively combined or modifed
1
The (by now rather worn) term “Web 2.0” has been used for some years to refer to the characteristics of
the net described above. Many people date the birth of Web 2.0 to 2004-2005: i.e. the time of the recovery
after the crisis of the “Internet bubble” (Google’s IPO in 2004 can be considered the symbolic event).
T
H
IN
K!
The Innovation Knowledge Foundation
to produce new solutions which, in their turn, will form the
basis for further innovations.
This requires an aptitude for component mining,
experimentation and recycling that should be appropriately
stimulated during the training of software designers.
However, it does not seem that this need is suffciently
recognised in the university curricula of computer science
undergraduates, which are still substantially based on
traditional programming skills.
If the above analysis is a true refection of how things
stand, it will be necessary to consider the Web in a radically
different manner: not so much (or not only) as a result of the
processes of innovation, but as the main factor enabling the
processes themselves. This leads to an apparently banal
but actually far-reaching conclusion if all of its implications
are understood: it is not possible to stimulate innovation in
Italy without:
T
H
I
N
K!
The Innovation Knowledge Foundation

3











In addition to the globalisation of markets, we are also
faced with the globalisation of the net and its technological,
informational and human resources. Any process of
innovation needs to take this new context into account and
try to take advantage of it.
Any further consideration of the points made above would
clearly require specifc details, and so I shall stop here.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful