A number of factors are coming together to empower amateurs in a way never before possible, blurring the lines between those who make and those who take. Unlike the dot-com fortune hunters of the late 1990s, these do-it-yourselfers aren’t deluding themselves with oversized visions of what they might achieve. Instead, they’re simply finding a wayin this mass-produced, Wal-Mart worldto take power back, prove that they can make the products that they want to consume, have fun doing so, and, just maybe, make a few dollars. “What’s happened is a tremendous change in awareness,” says Eric von Hippel, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and author of the recent Democratizing Innovation. “Conventional wisdom is so strong [in business] about find-a-need-and-fill-it: ‘We’re the manufacturers; we design products; we ask users what they need; we do it.’ That has begun to crack.”
Numerous currents have converged to produce this reaction. Bloggers, those do-it-yourself journalists, showed big media that the barriers to entry (like owning a printing press, say) didn’t much matter. Podcasters took radio into their own hands, creating audio shows and putting them online. Amateur music producers, using software that was once the province only of major labels, invented mash-ups: combining songs into totally new ones, then giving them away or selling them. And with the advent of services like Google AdSense, which let people easily put advertising on their sites, these tinkerers couldwhile not vaulting themselves into Bill Gates territoryat least break even.