Tuesday, May 26, 2009

ThinkCycle: Open Collaborative Design

ThinkCycle: Open Collaborative Design
[Seems to be moribund since 2002. What Happened?
  • ThinkCycle was an organization that sought to enable “open source design innovation,” allowing a community of designers to collaboratively solve design challenges. It was piloted at MIT and a class was created specifically to test the idea and the architecture of online collaboration. Nitin Sawhney [2] examined how patents interacted with the model. In particular, more than half of the teams of collaborators in the pilot project decided to avoid public disclosure of their designs through the main architecture. After a certain point, they used private virtual meeting rooms to continue collaborating. This type of cyberinfrastructure (one which allows for the use of the Web to reach a broad number of potential collaborators and then facilitates closed collaboration among small groups where public disclosure is not a risk) may be important for the design of a Web–based collaborative tool when the technologies on which the site is focused, are patentable. http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/1869/1752
  • Another challenge which hinders ThinkCycle’s development stems from the co–location of many of its contributors. Because ThinkCycle originated as an MIT project, it was used most by MIT design teams. Because team members were co–located, the projects were developed in real space and then recorded retroactively on ThinkCycle out of obligation. In these cases, participants saw ThinkCycle as a time–waster. They felt they were duplicating their efforts by using the system (Sawhney, 2003). ThinkCycle would benefit through a political structure that supports peer review, successor benevolent dictators, making participation a condition of membership, and encouraging participation through a more geographically dispersed area." (http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue11_6/coffin/#c4)

  • http://web.media.mit.edu/~nitin/ [queried]

About ThinkCycle

ThinkCycle is an academic, non-profit initiative engaged in supporting distributed collaboration towards design challenges among underserved communities and the environment. ThinkCycle seeks to create a culture of open-source design innovation, with ongoing collaboration among individuals, communities and organizations around the world.

Why Open Source?

How does one apply an Open Source approach to Hardware Products and Engineering Design? How can a global community of distributed domain experts and stakeholders collaborate towards evolving solutions to critical problem domains?

That is the driving motivation behind the ThinkCycle Initiative.


At the heart of the community is an evolving database of reasonably well-posed problems and ongoing design solutions contributed by universities, Non-Govermental Organizations (NGOs), companies and the general public. The system is primarily aimed at, but in no way limited to, using the design and engineering skills of the students and researchers in universities worldwide. One scenario is for professors to assign challenges to their students, assist them in working collaboratively with communities and organizations in developing countries while encouraging peer review from domain experts of evolving design solutions archived on ThinkCycle. Motivated teams of students may also work on critical design challenges as independent study projects with their departments. The objective is to document all evolving design solutions, rationale, processes, peer reviews and contributions within a searchable and cross-referenced system. Distributed and shared intellecual property issues are approached by maintaining all contributions for individual projects on the system (more on this issue will be formalized soon, as we work closely with our current ThinkCycle design teams).

Teachers and academics now have a resource for selecting interesting, applied problems while students gain experience in working on challenging real-world projects. Design teams can approach partner organizations for support in extending their work on the field and the development of subsequent products and services. NGOs, practitioners and researchers now have a resource for sharing problems and design challenges, while the general public benefit from open-source access to innovative design, and a new generation of individuals working on problems that matter for the environment and our communities.

About the ThinkCycle Initiative

ThinkCycle is an academic non-profit initiative, developed and operated by a group of doctoral students at the MIT Media Laboratory with the support of many students and faculty throughout MIT. The system is now being used to support workshops and courses in partner universities to scale this initiative worldwide. The online site complements ongoing design courses at MIT and many campuses around the world, such as the inter-disclipinary design studios: Global Design that Matters. ThinkCycle seeks to support design, resources, peer review and funding grants for students, individuals, design teams and organizations engaged in collaborative design with ThinkCycle. It will remain open to the public domain, although we encourage companies to partner with members on design projects hosted in this initiative. More details forthcoming soon.