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Competition and the Discussion Group

Okay... Been kickin' this around in the back of my head for the last hour or so.  So, bear with me.

What would you say has been the effect of Internet discussion groups and help forums on the dynamics of competition?  Specifically, on the ability of one company, region, or country to maintain its industry/market dominance.

Here's my thought: When you answer someone's question in a discussion forum, you could be helping a coworker, a neighbor, a competitor, or an outsourcer.  You just don't know.  You can't tell if jane@homedepot.com is answering a question from john@lowes.com.

As for myself, my job would be significantly more difficult if I could not look to these resources for help.  So, I am not saying we shouldn't have them.  I guess what I'm saying is that it is another (subtle) impact of the proliferation of computers.

Also, this does not seem to be limited to IS/IT.  There are engineering forums, teachers forums, etc.  (I couldn't find any *real* lawyer/doctor forums.  Maybe they're private.)

Your thoughts?

Russell Thackston
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Spit it out - is the possibility of Indian outsourcers seeking your hand at a job you might have given them worrying you much?

An Indian
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

We're all just human beings for crying outloud..

Conor MacLeod
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

"We're all just human beings for crying outloud..."

...Except for the French, of course.

anon
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Outsourcing to India is the *obvious* reaction.  I was thinking deeper... more subtle...

Like what about the possibility we're helping a direct competitor next door.  Or a guy writing the same "killer app" we're working on in the evenings.

Russell Thackston
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

mostly, it is individuals how engage in online discussions.
to ask or provide help and to share experiences...  mainly for personal reasons.

they do not formally represent their companies but of course what they discuss in online forums would influence their work practices and therefore affect their performance and the company's.

CLK
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

So let's all pack our bags then.

Ta ta
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

In most professions, people are constantly exchanging tips and stories with the competition. What do you think happens at conventions?

Precise Definition Man
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Google for the word coopetition.

Simon Lucy
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

True about conventions.  But much, much slower and less effective.

Coopetition... very interesting.


Thanks.

Russell Thackston
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

No way Ta Ta! Aiyagonna chainge me naime to sometheeng younikly aanglosacksun and cuntinew to leech off them!

John D. Bloggs (formerly Sivaramakrishna Ganapathyvenkata Subramaniayeshwar)
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

>No way Ta Ta! Aiyagonna chainge me naime to sometheeng younikly aanglosacksun and cuntinew to leech off them!

For such abstinence, have two brownies from me for free.

Ta ta
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Allowing competitors to have your knowledge is the side effect, not the primary intention. People post to discussion groups for a number of reasons.

Showoffishness. Lets the forum community know how brilliant you think you are.  But it does indeed impart a lot of good information to those who know less on the subject. The poster then gets an ego charge from being so superior.

Altruism. The intention to help others for no personal gain. Really, there are a lot of people who want to help you for no other reason than being good netizens.

Reciprocation. If you are open and helpful to others, they will be more likely to do the same unto you. When there are large numbers of knowledgeable posters, even the biggest experts can derive new insights from the thoughts and ideas of others.

Ignorance. Their knowledge is really backward on the subject and need others to set them straight. Newbees for instance know they have a lot to learn and can often get personally directed advice which would be difficult to get from a book. They often bring with them a fresh insight into an old problem even if it comes in the form of a dumb question.

So by sharing with the community at large you are allowing the competition to view your depth (or lack) of knowledge, but the benefits of sharing outweigh the negatives by far. The very concept of publishing scientific research and first submitting it for peer (competitors) review is the basis for how all technology advances. Internet forums are an unstructured and very informal method for doing pretty much the same.

old_timer
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

>> "Altruism. The intention to help others for no personal gain. Really, there are a lot of people who want to help you for no other reason than being good netizens."

Altruism is a myth.  Even if you do something nice just for the kick of doing something nice, you're getting a reward. 

anon
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Bjarne Stroustrup in his faq or his apologia book ;) once mentioned his company was fine giving away C++ because they consume far more of that sort of thing than they produce.

I'd also ask whether we're talking about a zero-sum game. And whether the techies are winning some form of the Prisoners' Dilemma for their companies, who normally would be inclined to lose it.

(As for altruism, I don't believe it's a myth; in my mind it's connected to boredom or having a default motivation when there's no strong case to decide either way on an action.)

Tayssir John Gabbour
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

>> "Altruism is a myth.  Even if you do something nice just for the kick of doing something nice, you're getting a reward. "

Well, that's the current Party line, particularly among the less imaginative economists, but it's more of a political statement than a scientific observation.

Eudoxus
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

I agree with old_timer, and add the idea of "pay it forward": which means that I have benefited from online forums, and cannot "pay back" the people that I learned from (they don't need me), and therefore I try to 'pay forward' instead.

To the OP, I'm not a big fan of competition per se. The good thing about competition is said to be that it encourages "efficiency": it means, for example, that when I buy groceries I am buying them from whoever is most effecient at selling them to me.

The point of competition is supposed to be (in my opinion) that we all benefit: I don't intend it as a zero-sum game.

> Specifically, on the ability of one company, region, or country to maintain its industry/market dominance.

For example, this year I'm writing software to help cure heart disease. I would be pleased if someone else cured heart disease tomorrow, and put my project out of business: I'd move on to some other project.

Christopher Wells
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Christopher Wells, Tayssir John Gabbour, old_timer:

Nice to see some thoughful replies. 

Russell Thackston
Thursday, May 13, 2004

I should add that I feel that some of the information that I have in my head belongs to my employers, and not to me: for example, their business and product plans, and the way in which they have applied technologies in their products. I owe it to them to not disclose these.

On the other hand, I feel that some of this information (specifically, general knowledge about programming that is public domain, that any programmer could acquire) belongs to me and is mine to share if I want to.

So, perhaps there's some 'class solidarity' mentality happening ("IT workers of the world unite" or something). Generally though, what's in my mind is the individual that I'm replying to, not the organization that they're working to support.

Christopher Wells
Thursday, May 13, 2004

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