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Open markets: let’s not forget the ‘we’ in web 2.0

The Government 2.0 Taskforce has announced a competition to design a banner for their website gov2.net.au. Judging from the comments on their announcement and call for entries, there’s a lot of huffing and puffing about not doing spec work. I think they’ve missed the point, and I also think this shows one of the honest truths about doing things the ‘web 2.0′ way.

The comments raise some worthy issues about spec work devaluing design as a commodity and the design industry itself. Some go so far as to comment that it’s offensive and degrading. There’s examples cited like:

“Do you ask your dentist, mechanic or accountant to do work for free on the off chance that the pride they have in their work may be acknowledged publicly? I doubt it.”

Now, I’m involved in writing proposals, quoting for work, and sharing ideas and concepts with potential clients, all to win business. That’s how it’s done. As Lisa Harvey over at Energetica (who it should be said is part of the Taskforce) says: “my team and I spend a lot of time with clients, preparing proposals and tenders, all of which contain our ideas, our expertise and a lot of other stuff that should be paid for. We win some, we lose some. It’s business.

Perhaps some commenters aren’t grasping that different commodities and services (dentist, mechanic, designer) operate in different market set-ups. Dentists don’t write proposals to fix your teeth.

And maybe they’re also not seeing the spirit in which this competition is intended: collaboration and participation. Is it Nike or Microsoft running a competition with no prize? No. It’s government. Our government. Your government. For all the times that people like us wish we could contribute more to government and have a say… well, this is just one of those ways.

The whole ‘web 2.0′ zeitgeist has grown off the back of a lot of people contributing a lot of creativity, design, and content for nothing. And I’m sure those who argue for no-spec have done well by taking some of the contribution and used it for themselves.

This is all about give and take. Let’s not forget to give every now and then.