Taking Open Product Development to the Next Level

We have previously introduced an open collaborative product development process. Developing an effective open source product pipeline – as a worthy competitor to corporate research and development (R&D) – remains one of the hottest topics of the peer-to-peer economy. We know of no other comprehensive product development pipelines, with well-defined, applied methodology – outside of our own. That’s sad but true, and we welcome insight if we’re missing something here.

We have begun a process to get to world-class, open product R&D with the Global Village Construction Set – a set of infrastructure technologies for building the world’s first, replicable, off-grid, open source Global Village.

This process is in its infancy. The problem statement of reinventing the essence of civilization is not a light task. It’s a topic equivalent to hundreds of Ph.D. theses, combined with the hands-on work of thousands – nothing short of a social movement. It’s a social technology and process that massages existing technology into a more human-friendly form – also in harmony with natural life support systems. To us at Factor e Farm – developing an effective process for collaborative product development – is the most pressing issue that society faces today. That is because it is a tactical approach whereby people actually share. This concept has been discussed previously in scripture, pick your book.

Believe it or not, we’ve begun a template for directing such research in the open source context, and we have it on our wiki, since about 2 years ago, as the Development Work Template. This has to date remained an obscure methodology. We will be upgrading that page, as we apply a complete cycle of this process to our first product release – the Compressed Earth Brick press. We have hardly followed this development template ourselves – because it is a lengthy process and includes the production of real products, requiring a combination of global research and local labor, capital, and skill – not to mention a facility, tools, and other physical infrastructure for carrying out this task. The open source physical product development process is leagues beyond the open source software development process in terms of complexity and cost. We simply did not have the resources to carry out the process in a thorough fashion, so we just took the key points – such as design, some review, prototype, and testing – but many of the enabling details are still not easily accessible.

We begin with an assumption that the product choice is sound. Without getting into the details of product selection, we note that each product has been graded by replicability and economic significance criteria – as a point score – outlined in the Product Selection Metric discussion in the 2008 OSE Proposal. The 40-item Global Village Construction Set is open to change – so if you think that another worthy product is not included in the list, then please take the following steps:

  1. Read the Product Selection Metric discussion
  2. Calculate a rating score for your proposed product based on the product selection metric
  3. Document the score at Product Selection Metric Scores for Other Technologies
  4. If your proposed score is indeed higher than our other selections, then email us.

Assuming that we agree on the product choices for the Global Village Construction Set – what are the steps required to produce a given product in the open source framework? Take a given product, like the CEB press. The overview of our latest procedure and strategy that we came up with (as of this week) involves taking a few of the key steps in the Development Work Template, and adding several key, tactical strategy points. We look at the following diagram of the Collaborative Product Development Cycle and examine it in detail.

The design rationale is the key to the entire process of making a certain technology transparent to the point that it becomes replicable. If one is presented with a design rationale, one should be able to convert it into a conceptual drawing and a 3D drawing.

We need to clarify what design rationale implies from the open source product design perspective. We begin with the standard definition of design rationale from Wikipedia:

A design rationale is the explicit listing of decisions made during a design process, and the reasons why those decisions were made. It’s primary goal is to support designers by providing a means to record and communicate the argumentation and reasoning behind the design process. It should therefore include:

* the reasons behind a design decision – (DfD, lifetime design)
* the justification for it – (OSE Specifications)
* the other alternatives considered,
* the trade offs evaluated, and
* the argumentation that led to the decision.

We extend this standard definition to the particular context of open source product development. We call this the Open Source Design Rationale (OSDR) – a description that not only shows the standard design rationale, but additional details that make the design transparent to any entry-level student or developer of the technology in question.

In order to achieve this extension, we must consider that open source developers are nonspecialists functioning as technological integrators – or open engineers. As such, these open engineers do not possess many of the assumptions, biases, or ‘curses of knowledge’ of the specialist, and are able to take a more ‘innocent’ view of the technology. Therefore, the open engineer may not know some of the details of rigorous engineering design, so these details must be filled in.

This may seem like an onerous burden on the extent of the design rationale. However, there are two features of good design that make the creation of Open Source Design Rationale tractable. First, optimal technology is one with absolute simplicity. Second, the underlying concepts of how things work are often intuitive and explicable – not to be shrouded by mystery by the technological elites. Indeed, open source design rationale is the most important step to technological literacy of the population.

To sum up OS Design Rationale– it should be specific enough, and all the design freatures should be outlined – such that a nonspecialist would be able to come up with a conceptual drawing, and even a detailed 3D design – just by careful study of the OSDR itself. It should be noted that this is not what is found in patents. Patent claims document features in the most general fashion possible, while still making explicit claims on the technological or process domain. Patent claims are in no way sufficient for one to produce an exact implementation of a given device. Patents typically cover concepts or small parts of devices or processes – so one is left with much missing information towards being able to replicate a particular technology.

The design rationale should be complete up to the point that it allows one to create particular instances of physical form. Indeed, this design rationale should include sufficient detail, such that two distinct people attempting to convert a design rationale into reality would come up with identical implementations.

One should be able to convert an OSDR into to a digital 3D drawing. One should then be able to examine the 3D drawing, and be able to come up with a parts list for fabricating the object. The key to the 3D drawing is the ability to determine whether the design fits/functions as it should. It should also be possible to come up with a ready bill of materials from a 3D drawing.

The bill of materials (BOM) determines the cost performance of the technology. At this point, if the cost is unacceptably high, the design should be examined for possible materials/design changes. Only when specific materials/sources are considered can the changes be made. It is important to draw up a BOM, because without looking at different choices, it is impossible to evaluate the overall ratio of performance to cost. The arrow pointing back from the 3D Drawing & BOM step back to OS Design Rationale reflects any design rationale changes based on conclusions obtained from drawing up the BOM. It should be noted that this feedback loop is critical, as liberatory technology is one that optimizes cost performance – if one assumes that cost is related directly to the amount of effort required to produce something.

Before we move forward, we should note that product specifications precede OS Design Rationale, and are not included in the simplified Collaborative Product Development Cycle diagram above. We do not include it because it is assumed. We assume that we have selected one particular instance of product specifications, and moved forward to build this particular instance. There are inherently several instances for the general product specifications (see because of the scalability, modularity, or other features embodied in general product specifications. For example, a steam engine of two different sizes may be included in the general steam engine specification, but the OSDR must reflect that a particular size was chosen. In this sense, OSDR can be seen as an explicit continuation of the product specifications, and is not included in our Collaborative Product Development Cycle diagram for sake of simplicity.

Next we take the design to the peer review stage. This is similar to the peer review process of academic journals, where the community verifies content to make sure that it holds true under closer scrutiny. The equivalent for us is to submit the design for review to acknowledged experts, forums, and others. We list the possible reviewer under a Resource Map on the wiki, which is a list of possible reviewers and bidders for fabrication. Every review informs any OSDR changes, and we iterate this process until a design is finalized.

As an example, you can view the specifications for the os lathe here (sorry, the wiki is not as well organized for the prior work on the CEB press), the 3D Drawing and BOM for the open source lathe are here, and the reviews are found here.

As the development process continues, we post increasingly useful reviewers on the Resource Map, and we ask them to be reviewers in future work, to assure continuity for the project and to generate further involvement from the broader community. We then ask the reviewer for bids or suggestions on other bidders. When we identify 3 bids, we select one and invite the potential fabricator on-site to build. Factor e Home Team’s role is to document, as described at the Development Pipeline wiki page.

There are several keys to this process. By involving third party review, we aim to prove to stakeholders that the design is sound. By securing bids, we produce an explicit list of deliverables, and the capacity to deliver on time and to specifications by inviting experts. The barrier to this process is funding – but if we have sound design, an expert to make it happen, and Factor e Home Team to document – we should be able to generate crowd funding to pay for the development. It is as simple as ‘here is a guaranteed product, now contribute so you can see it happen.’

What exactly is the product? A demonstrated prototype and open design that can be replicated via DIY means, or purchased from us when we complete the development cycle through prototyping and testing up to product release. The value that we provide to stakeholders is at-cost production. People do not pay for the R&D costs in the product price – just the cost of the product itself. Remember that we already paid for the fabrication facility with crowd funding, so we are well on the way to at cost production, where we capture value of labor to allow for economic sustainability of the production process. This has potential to become a dominant method of production, simply because the end-user obtains the highest value and best service. The service is provided via an open source support community and open access to all relevant information.

That’s all for now on the topic. Please comment. We will be holding our first conference call to organize around the OS Design Rationale, where we will attempt to mobilize a directed team of researchers to tackle particular design and development points of the GVCS. Please go to the OSE Development Network for more information if you would like to participate in the teleconference, to be held this Friday, 10-11 AM Central Time, USA (GMT –5) (note: time changed to accommodate West Coast USA).


  1. Alex Rollin

    I read the post. A regular conference call sounds good to me. This one is a good start.

    You can use as a beginning step if you like. Regardless, international inbound calling will be an issue unless we use Skype.

  2. Joseph

    Are there any new developments on the ‘student involvement’ front? i.e. is there any contact being performed to universities? Has Gaia ‘re-contacted’ you (Marcin) concerning potential upcoming relationships? The last I understood Greg and Andy were to potentially visit Factor E together sometime in these next few months? Is this any type of verifiable potential? Regardless, are you, Jeremy and Nick the only three continuing to work on implementable designs?

  3. Nick

    Joseph, Uhmm regretably I’m not doing any OSE related work right now. I’m rotting my soul again interviewing and applying for normal jobs. Looking into long term student loan default options though so maybe I’ll find a way to work around finances.

    Heck given the number of college students in debt maybe the OSE campaign should look at high school grad recruits?

  4. Jeremy

    The design rationale and specifications should go straight to review, since you shouldn’t be wasting time doing specifics if your rationale and specifications are “whack,” as they say. Once you nail down a general design then you can start with the specifics of it.

  5. Nick

    OK there is a whole lot to this post! I am trying to get my mind around the basics of it. Is it fair to say open source product development process is a revolutionary bootstrap method to pull existing knowledge out of specialized fields and manufacturing sectors into a an integrated public commons?

    Opening up the bidding process to existing manufacturers is a brilliant way to bring their skill and knowledge into the OSE commons, but what about these concerns/questions.

    1. There are many empty high tech manufacturing shops out there that could produce the OSE wares at a lower cost than your facility because they have very automated high end production machinery. In wich case the battle for lowest price product price, assuming shop labor is the same, will be their overhead versus yours. They will have a much higher product productivity per unit labor due to superior manufacturing machinery but also a higher overhead. Initially though it may not even matter which producer has the better long term economic model, speed of production may be more the issue. In wich case the high tech manufacturing shop wil probably end up earning most of the market share on the OSE designed product. Is that a problem?

    2. If it is true that existing manfuacturing shops will be able to produce more product intially at a lower cost does it make sense to go to them with an OSE ware and contract out production so that OSE at least gets a slice of the pie?

  6. LucasG

    I don’t think #1 is a problem if demand is higher than what both Farm and HiTechShops can produce. Both will create a market. Maybe.

    I think OSE wants to feed itself, rather than get a slice of the pie. And keep their own freedom. And keep developing stuff for as long as they want or need.

    And of course people who buy from bigger shops may become free to become small shops if that’s what they want.

    I think we’re all hoping the pie will grow!

  7. Marcin

    High tech fab shops are not necessarily better equipped to produce integrated designs, because one cannot speed up machine operators’ capacity to understand a given design. High tech fab shops will probably be better equipped to do components, but not entire systems. They are too specialized, in general.

    We can only talk of specifics. If we are equipped with a torch table, professional welder, and drill press, no high tech fab shop will be more effective than we are, unless they set up dedicated tooling.

    Overall, you are assuming that existing manufacturing shops will be better equipped. We’re working on equivalent equipment, but open source, so our overhead will be lower.

    Initially (such as right now), yes, shops are better equipped – but that’s simply because we haven’t finished the Global Village Construction Set yet.

  8. […] for the Global Village Construction Set (GVCS). We have outlined the problem statement in the post on raising open development to a higher level, so please study that carefully before you join the call. The point is that we have a large number […]

  9. Lost Chief

    I feel like im in the court of law reading this website hahaha You really have to re-read everything over and over to really get a grip on what your trying to say. Maybe for all the people who arent able to get that deep into this but are able to work on the net well and advertise you could make this simple to understand. Make a chart with some simple to understand prices.

    Im just saying that i know of quite a few people with some cash that i may be able to get to invest in some of your work but your going to need to make a solid cash figure on a project from start to finish with a general timeline. Say for the CEB. How much total cash would it take right now so you have all the cash to finish that project complete in a pretty timely manner? I was reading your charts for the fab table with some #s there but no timeline in general from what i could understand.

    I say make a simple sale/investor summary for each tool youve priced the work out on. A total of the cash your going to need from start to finish to get a production model. For me it will be much easier finding 5-20,000 from one person over trying to find 200 people to pay 100 bucks. Talked to 2 people this week who own good size businesses that arent doing very well and told them i had a line on one of the only industries taking off right now because of the global economy. Ive done this all my life to get starting cash for the many new small businesses ive owned and im telling you that the people im fishing are biting. They hear self sustainable and it rings a bell now and makes them listen. Its clear they understand its the next big thing but just down know how to get into it. All they know is solar panels..

    Anyways if you had a more clear total price for projects people like me may find investors for a tool. They will want cost on the machines or cost on something the machine makes in return for the investment. Atleast thats how it works allot of the time on the West coast. Peace

  10. Marcin

    The recurring issue at Factor e Farm to date has been the lack of expertise. We addressed this by doing the due diligence for project integration ourselves by studying the issues and solving problems, while doling out specific tasks to collaborators. Project integration is my primary role. On top of that, I do most of the fabrication tasks. This way, you can pay me $2 per day for food, plus a materials budget, and I could produce state-of-art product. The trouble is, this part is highly nonreplicable – there are very few people capable of the focus required to do this – and while many have participated, to date – the essence of the project is a one-man-show.

    While we rely on crowd funding (True Fans, dedicated funding baskets) – the limit to that is that a full-fledged research budget, where we bring in the necessary skill from outside – would be much more expensive. It would be more like a $10k/month budget instead of a $2k/month budget. Given 3 product cycles per prototype, it would cost about $30k to bring in the necessary skill – to delviver on time – which we have not done to date because of lack of in-house expertise. True Fans in itself could provide the rapid development budget – but the reality shows that at the current 34 Fans, we’re far from our goals. This may change as we do our first product release – aimed at May 1 for the CEB press.

    Point is, yes, outside investment is worthwhile – and if I did not have to worry about marketing or facility management, I could focus directly on technology integration. This would require knocking off some facility infrastructure issues (outsourcing for a kitchen and bathroom facility to be built professionally, about $3-6k for that).

    So if you have people who are interested, we should consider that – though I still maintain that the 1000 True Fans idea – if successful – is the easiest route to share risk. You should note that we have our production building paid for at $4k from last year’s crowd donations.

    The main need for us is skilled developers, in all the areas of our development – from agriculture, infrastructure, to technology. All of these can be had if there is financinal support coming in. To date, we’re all a bunch of rapid-learning amateurs.

    What you are asking for is a full proposal for each of the projects. For that, I can handle the CEB press right now, and we welcome any collaborators, whom I could guide in terms of publishing other proposals. This all takes time, so unless the candidates are business savvy and skilled, this can easily lead to wasting time without producing results – so this is my main concern with respect to managing our rapid growth at present.

    I am interested in discussion with interested stakeholders, so just pass on some phone numbers so we can assess the situations.

    The other point to be said is that funding should go to developing a refined methodology for scalable, open product development. This is a wholly different audience than interested producers. All in all, I think that developing a method for open product development is a bigger contribution to humanity than the development of any single point technology – if economic transformation is our goal.

  11. Lost Chief

    Thatnk you for your reply it made it a bunch easier to understand without a headache hahaah..

    On a second note i still feel that if you want to get this project going much faster your going to need a couple investors to get one or 2 projects finished so you have a tool or 2 to get cash flow coming in to pay for skilled labor or group labor to get projects that are key to moving things along done.

    With the economy like ity is right now it seems like you may be able to source out certain things for a much lower cost than you stated but i could be wrong. As it sits if you guys can cet the CEB into the production stage i should be able to sell atleast 2 of them for enough profit to you guys to fund one or 2 more projects. I personally have 6,000 dollars im thinking about investing but im just not clear enough on what i want to invest in yet. I know quite a few others with 5-40,000 bucks that are in the air right now thinking of what to invest in. If the CEB press was finished and you guys were cool with building a couple to sell for profit i may have the cash your seeking.

    On a side note if getting skilled labor to the farm is key we may want to design a project around building a few 200 square foot homes out of bricks with a wood roof or something to house people in more comfy. I know that allot of people with those skills will probably want some sort of minimal space to live in if going to stay a couple weeks to a month working on a project. And as far as a kitchen that would be pretty easy & cheap to build basic with free materials. A 200 sqft kitchen would house all you need including a roomy shower & restroom. You should not need very skilled labor to build it. If you build the building first it should be much easier to get someone to come finish it out. I know a basic setup kitchen should take less than 2 weeks for one person to install if they are using all used materials like cabinets tha are already built ect. has tons of free building materials. Even in the KansasCity area. Let alone the west coast. You could build 50 homes with the free stuff that comes on the Seattle CL each day..


  12. […] Mathew, Nick, Jeremy and I participated in the conference call on extending our collaboration ability. One major issue that we face is the large scope and difficulty of explaining the process of […]

  13. Jeremy

    Lost Chief, thank you very much for the insights! I’ll see what we can do.

  14. […] talked about the open product development pipeline before. We have actually had at least one person follow the Development Work Template outside of the […]

  15. Michael K

    Marcin, all,

    Are you all doing the development yourselves or are people from all over helping? I know you mention having reviewers, but they seem to be positioned after the design is in a rough draft. What about just having them involved throughout the process? This wouldnt be hard to do, especially using open source proj mgmt software (similar to whats used in OS software).

    Maybe you could shed some light on this if I’m missing something, as my take on it now is that you all are looking to do local design (as opposed to global, collaborative design)


  16. Marcin

    The entire process is iterative, which is not reflected well in the diagram here. See

    and newer posts after that for an expanded discussion.

  17. Jeremy


    We’re trying to have people from all over help, but it’s hard to get the message out to people that might be able to help, and we are still trying to communicate the process of how people can help with development.


  18. Michael K

    So my thought is that there needs to be a much more robust development site (think SourceForge, GitHub).

    There is a great book by Clay Shirky called “Here Comes Everybody” that goes fairly in depth into why collaborative projects like Wikipedia, SourceForge and others have seen such huge success, that might offer insight into how to allow users to help (not convince). It must be intuitive.

    Either way, we’ve been developing an a site called “open+pario” which has the goal of facilitating open production but is geared towards a more broad base of knowledge producers (not just software). Here soon we’ll be taking beta testers and I would very much like to have you all involved. Let me know what you think!


  19. Jeremy


    Sounds cool! Please send us a link to OpenSourceEcology at when you can!


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