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 These days, I mostly post my tech musings on Linkedin.  https://www.linkedin.com/in/seanmcgrath/

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Reading news/blogs over the last couple of days has brought Doug Englebarts bootstrapping concepts forcefully back into my head. To make anything go exponential you need a feedback loop. Digital technologies like the Internet are arguably the most potent source of feedback loops every created by humankind as the effort (time/money etc.) required to create the loop is so small. The so-called "social" technologies are feedback loop enablers. We have basically turned feedback-looping into a platform and are now laying down all sorts of boot-strappable things onto this feedback-based substrate in order to benefit from the bootstrap effects that Doug Englebart wrote about.

When history is written, what will be considered the first digital social network to leverage bootstrap effects? Perhaps the collaboration/bootstrapping in the open source movement? After all, many of the mainstream social technologies of today would not exist if it were not for the enabling components buried in the software stack that came from open source component bootstrapping of yester-year.

The speed with which boostrapped phenomena grow is, of course, amazing once they build up a head of exponential steam. We are seeing some of that amazement in popular discourse today...amazement at tablet penetration rates, amazement at Android growth, amazement at how quickly a new *thing* can go from 0 to mainstream - and also mainstream to 0..., and of course, amazement at our own amazement.

When history is written I think 2012 will be remembered as the year when the next big thing in bootstrapping started to percolate into our collective consciousness. I speak of 3D printing. Why is this a game changer? Not because manufacturing of complex objects can now be done better/faster/cheaper than before. That is undoubtedly true.

No, what makes 3D printing fascinating is that we can now clearly envisage a future in which 3D printers are used to make....

.....3D printers.

Fasten your seatbelts all you bootstrappers out there. Doug Englebart, I hope you are enjoying watching all this unfold.