CALL TO ACTION: Let's stop the spill the open source way

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How can open soruce help solve a huge problem?

Each day as I drive to work and hear the radio updates on the unfortunate situation in the Gulf of Mexico, my fears and concerns compound considerably.

The latest news suggests that the amount of oil gushing from the Gulf of Mexico is, conservatively, at least 10 times the official amount of 5,000 barrels per day.

To put this in context, the Exxon Valdez spill totaled 250,000 barrels of oil. At its current rate, the leak in the Gulf is totaling 350,000 barrels per week. In other words, each week that a solution to the spill is not found, the cost in oil spillage is, conservatively, equal to 1.4 Exxon Valdez Super Tankers dumping into the Gulf.

I don’t think there is a single human being on the planet who does not want to see this leak stopped. If this is indeed the case, then my question is: Why can’t we involve everybody to develop a series of solutions? If ever there was a clear-cut case for the social production of ideas, this oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has to be it.

The mission of is to bring the open source way to new areas of endeavor. There have been lots of useful discussions and debates as to whether or not the application of open source principles such as community, transparency, contribution, collaboration, authenticity, participation, meritocracy, respect, responsibility, and accountability are feasible and practical outside the realm of software development and distribution.

Some have argued that applying the open source way to areas such as innovation may not be as effective as having a brilliant visionary like Steve Jobs putting a forcing function on the innovation process. Innovation by committee, they argue, is perhaps beyond the reach of the open source way. Others argue that things like transparency and meritocracy get in the way of efficient governance and that decisions can drag on too much in applying the open source way. Sometimes someone has to just take charge and make the call, or so they say.

In response, I say, here is our chance to prove them wrong. Rather than having theoretical arguments around these issues, why doesn’t the community rally around the world’s most pressing issue and demonstrate that the open source way can be a legitimate alternative for solving complex problems that require rapid innovation cycles?

The Gulf Spill is not just BP’s problem: it is everyone’s problem. This is not the time to play the blame game. It is time to tap into the whole world’s wisdom and insight to solve the world’s most pressing problem. Unlike the financial crisis we just went through, this is not a case of BP being “too big to fail.” When it comes to facing this issue, it is probably more likely that BP alone is in fact “too small to solve” this complex issue. So let's help.

Imagine if every petroleum engineer on the planet, irrespective of where they work or live, dedicated four hours of serious brainstorming to this effort. Does it not stand to reason that this collective brainstorming effort would uncover more non-obvious solutions than if BP had to go it alone?

In addition, what if we then brought in expertise from adjacent fields to help shape these ideas into plans that could be examined by experts? By aggregating the expertise of industrial designers, architects, physicists, and perhaps even artists, we could come up with a portfolio of possible and practical solutions to be evaluated.

So here is an open challenge to the open source community. Let’s take what we know about how to organize in an open source way and apply it to solve the world’s most pressing problem.

Let’s start the conversation right now on how we can collectively enable a world-scale process of ideation, prioritization, and execution to stop the leak. Let’s create a proof point for how social production can deliver immediate and impactful results that require a very rapid cycles of innovation and execution.

In the past few days there has already been some positive movement in this direction. Ushahidi is being leveraged to create an oil spill crisis map, BP has announced via Twitter that it is seeking ideas to stop the oil leak. Perhaps most importantly, BP has pledged to be transparent in “providing the American people with the information they need to understand the environmental impact from the spill and the response steps that have been taken.”

Case in point, you can watch a live stream from an ROV monitoring the damaged riser.

So let's do it. Let’s show the world how the open source way can help solve  the world’s most pressing issue and let's do it in the next week. May the “best ideas win” and always remember that none of us is as smart as all of us.

To get the ball rolling here are some ideas for the One Week Challenge. If you like one and think you have the skills to organize it and pull it off, do so, and use to invite others to participate.

  • Openness and transparency: Open up all data about the spill and centralize it for the community to view.
  • Collaboration and ideation: Run a 48 hour virtual brainstorm on “out of the box” ideas to stop the spill.
  • Meritocracy and prioritization: Run a 24 hour predictive market on the brainstormed ideas to determine which ones are possible, practical, and implementable.
  • Coordination and planning: Provide virtual war rooms for the top 30 concepts and have experts and project managers contribute around the clock for 24 hours to develop them into more robust implementation plans.
  • Open decision making: Hold an 8 hour public virtual forum where each solution team provides a 10 minute overview of the proposed implementation plan. Consider including a digg-style voting mechanism for those viewing the forum to aggregate the group's perceptions on most plausible plans.
  • Communication and accountability: Take the top ten implementation plans and have them evaluated by a respected expert board. Publish the prioritized set of solutions for consideration by the Federal government and BP by the end of the week.

To borrow Kevin Kelly’s keen insight, “Sometimes what’s possible in practice is not possible in theory.” This is not a time for theory or argument. It is a time for action.

This is our moment to shine, our moment to provide tangible proof that the open source way can make a real difference to something that matters deeply to everyone on this planet.


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Tony O'Driscoll Ed.D. is a Professor of the Practice at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business where he also serves as Executive Director of Fuqua’s Center for IT and Media; a research center dedicated to understanding the strategic, structural, operational and business model issues associated with these vibrant and volatile sectors.


The EPA is seeking public input.


ABC reports that BP has also set up a Tip Line and has also received over 20,000 ideas via e-mail.

I think the issue here is not about ideation but about leveraging the opensource way to aggregate these ideas into a coherent set of plausible solutions for consideration by BP/Government.

Here is the ABC report:

when the govt hasn't enough support using their well as for which i imply citizenship or sense of owned by a place...

it's not only an action/reaction problem fixing
it is about 'morale'.....i mean at <a href="">Quick weight loss</a> big, the love of the living place we are in.....
but not all of the guys are having this, and just becoming faint hearted

thus this openness will just inform the citizen going to consider that shxt although not getting any reward
and also the industrial is already outta difficulty

consequently, that shows only poor govt mgmt

this teaches, when you want some thing, you'd better provide beforehand

just my small 2%, does not mean any harm to anything.....
just to assist maintain up our morale shape....not just shxt bearing

Everyone who wants to participate in some way should first read everything that Fishgrease says on the topic:

Seems to me that this whole process is missing is informed outsiders who can provide actionable info. Fishgrease is the closest I've seen.

when the govt has NOT enough support from their citizen.....and for that i mean citizenship or sense of belonging to a place...

it's not just an action/reaction problem solving
it's about 'morale'.....i mean at large, the love of the living place we are in.....
but not all the guys are having this, and just being faint hearted

thus this openness will just tell the citizen about to take that shxt but not having any reward
and the commercial is already outta trouble

in turn, that shows only bad govt mgmt

this teaches, when you want something, you'd better give it beforehand

just my little 2%, doesn't mean any harm to anything.....
just to help keep up our morale shape....not just shxt bearing

Sadly, many of those with the expertise and knowledge to participate in this call to action are likely feeling constrained by a commitment to internal protocol (ie. the company will orchestrate their involvement). So while the oil continues to pump out, or if the top kill works what is already out expands into the ecosystem, knowledgeable experts are funneled and most ideas are ignored.

Here is your chance to step out, show leadership and share your insights to propel action that may not take place otherwise.


Thanks for your comments.

Even if the "Top Kill" works, and BP manages to corral the first SOS (i.e. Stop the Oil Spill) there is still a second SOS which is (i.e. Save our Shores) that likely could benefit much from applying the opensource way.

Hi all - blatant promotion warning - in the spirit of open source, a bunch of us ( are making public domain maps of coastal areas affected by oil. The cool part is that we're using balloons, kites, and the CHDK (canon hacker development kit) to get aerial imagery which we stitch together into maps. Thought you might be interested.

You might be interested that I took this article as basis for a task I had to do for my university. Below you can find the excerpt and the writeup I did about this article.

Personally I really believe in this idea that if we all step up and at least are allowed to brainstorm together a more creative but mainly faster process will be developed to stop this oil leakage. It would also be another good example for later cases. The disaster in Haiti was already a good example on how open source initiatives came together (rescue systems trough websites, ..)

The basic idea for my suggestion is that instead of stopping the oil from gushing into the water, try and capture it. My thinking was around when you have a busted pipe in your house, most people would fix it with a coupler. Since we can't do that, why not redirect where the oil is going? <a href="">website templates</a>

I saw this <a href="" target="blank">article</a> on WRAL and submitted a suggestion at the form mentioned in it:

I'm interested to see how my idea is handled, if they even get to it.

The basic idea for my suggestion is that instead of stopping the oil from gushing into the water, try and capture it. My thinking was around when you have a busted pipe in your house, most people would fix it with a coupler. Since we can't do that, why not redirect where the oil is going?

I don't claim to know everything that they've tried or ideas that they've thought about, but I don't understand why we can't put a big funnel over the hole and capture that oil somewhere else instead of letting it spew into the water. Connect it back into the piping or run a long pipe / tube to the "funnel" capturing the oil.

It would be nice to see a list of ideas and reasons why they may or may not work. <em>Does anyone know if such a list exists?</em>

I'm afraid my suggestion went off into nowhere. Instead, it could have been posted online to let people refine my idea and it could be voted up / down by the public. Then a more official response could accompany it.

Also, if a list was available, I could see if my idea was already there or not and it would be more inviting to participate.


We are an Italian family who have had an idea for stop the spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

At this address: there are project and draws for build the system for close the BP oil duct.

If this project is interesting for you and you thing it should be useful, please help us to let know the project to BP, the White House, or any important organization forwarding this web page.

Maybe you know right emails or important person working for solve the problem.
We don’t ask for money, it just a contribute for save the Gulf area and the sea.

i'm not a tecnician i ca'nt evaluate his project but looks strange to me that Us embassy in Rome did not answer to his offer .....


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