Should Some Crowdsourced Apps Be Considered a Public Utility?

Apps as UtilitiesIn the wake of the recent news of Google buying another app company (Waze), for a ridiculous amount of money I got to thinking about all those people who contribute their time and efforts in such crowdsourcing apps. In such a buy out situation the crowd doesn’t usually get much but perhaps new ads and degraded support in an app / service that was working perfectly fine before the buy out. Is that any way to reward your hard contributing users? Not only that, should a couple people be allowed to reap the huge reward of a buy out because of all the work of thousands of users? Obviously they should be rewarded for creating the idea, taking the risk in building the app and the work they do in supporting it, but they could get some of those rewards from the people themselves. My idea would be something similar to a public utility.

The Public Utility Concept

The idea goes something like this. As a developer I come up with a great idea to build an app that draws in and utilizes a group of people for gathering data and helping inform other users of information… like traffic data or gas prices etc. I go about getting a group of people together and work hard to develop an app. I then put it out there for the world and market it to attract the users. Thousands join and the magic starts happening. At this point I am now working to keep the service going and upgrading it for a better experience. I will need some cash soon to keep this thing going. Oh please some company, come buy me out and then you can do whatever with my users!

What I find a bit more fair for end users is that this company not be allowed to be bought by some conglomerate like Google. Instead the company would have to go to the people it serves and have them essentially finance the service. Much like a power company would go to the people and bill them for power. In the case of the US, many of these companies are publicly owned (in theory) by the state or county. The money they get would then go into supporting the system. Yes I know, seems very “socialist” but I am thinking about you, me and the rest of the users who pour their hard work into such services.

For our app company scenario, they could either form a subscription or provide ads for others. “Hey Google, give me money and I lend you access to my company for your ads. This will help me support my users who have put their faith in us.” The company will always answer purely to the users for their existence and their technology will remain with the company. Users could join such services knowing that at no time will the big bad company they hate be allowed to acquire their hard work.

Results of this Concept

What I think this idea could do for the world is create large companies who are held accountable to the very people they serve rather than the whims of another company. In the situation with Waze, they are on record saying that the company would remain independent and away from those on Wall Street, but is it any better to be held accountable to the executives of Google? I think this idea would lead to large web service companies who grow only as large as their user base. If the company implements an unpopular feature the crowdsourcing contributors have a better shot at fighting it rather than just abandoning it. This may also lead to a user base that in turn makes it cheaper for everyone.

If Waze was forced to depend on its crowdsourced users, instead of taking a bunch of cash from Google, they may be more willing to keep their users happy to keep themselves afloat. You could then join such crowdsourced apps knowing that in the future they will not be taking shots from a large company that you may despise. I guess it all comes down to the question “Would you prefer to have more say on your favorite app/service or live in the fear that your favorite service is now being bought by a company like Facebook?” I know this happens to people who are on mobile carriers. They switched from company X because of crappy service only to have their new provider bought by company X.

I guess I am getting a bit tired of seeing great services and ideas being bought up by large online conglomerates only to be brought into the fold and possibly killed if not successful enough. Let us hear your thoughts!

And if you are looking for that next app, be sure to check out our ebook of 200 programming projects. Perhaps the next buy out will be yours. 😉

Thanks for reading!

About The Author

Martyr2 is the founder of the Coders Lexicon and author of the new ebooks "The Programmers Idea Book" and "Diagnosing the Problem" . He has been a programmer for over 25 years. He works for a hot application development company in Vancouver Canada which service some of the biggest tech companies in the world. He has won numerous awards for his mentoring in software development and contributes regularly to several communities around the web. He is an expert in numerous languages including .NET, PHP, C/C++, Java and more.