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How will the goals be reached?
I admit the project's aim is way ambitious, but I believe that with the help of the Internet it is possible to reach people and organizations who feel that the project's goals accord with their own view on the world and wish to contribute their skills and working time to the project. So the answer is - by teamwork.
In the first stage the project's website http://www.consumerium.org will be equipped with a Wiki where people can express their ideas on the system's features and functions, and discuss the suggested features' implementability and necessity. Also in this stage we need to communicate the project to experts of all areas to make sure that we have a versatile group of thinkers and doers from the start.
Founding an association for supporting the project seems realistic because the idea has ignited enthusiasm in people I have told about it. I've been thinking very thoroughly about whether implementing the project on a commercial basis would make sense; the answer is a clear no, so founding an associating looks like a good idea: An association can raise money and acquire software or hardware resources by getting support from members. Additionally, as the functionary of an association it is easier to create contacts to other groups: Companies, associations and government institutions.
In the second stage, the technical implementation of the system begins. This work can be clearly divided into four branches.
- We need to develop a language, obviously XML-based, which is able to store information about all the products of the world and their producers and forms the basis of all communication within the system.
- We need to develop a distributed system for gathering, storing and transmitting information. My suggestion is to implement this in Java so that it can be run on multiple platforms.
- We need to develop a wizard-style XML generator that helps individuals or organizations create a consumerium-readable XML description of a product or company anywhere in the world. You can then put the XML document onto your home page and report the URL to the consumerium server which then examines the document and adds a reference to the external document to the database.
- We need to develop a Consumer Agent. This is also going to be implemented in Java, because it looks like Java Micro Edition (JME) is going to be the dominating platform in future mobile phones. For the realization of the second stage, there is need for the voluntary work of numerous IT experts and hobbyists. Everybody who's basically interested in contributing is probably interested in the question: Who will own the copyright for the code? At the moment I think that applying the GPL (GNU Public license), which is the leading licensing solution for the Open Source Community, or a modified version of it is the appropriate solution. The GPL doesn't prohibit commercial usage, particularly offering installation and maintenance services, but it prevents companies from claiming ownership of Consumerium's code. Naturally, the people who are most involved in the development process have the best opportunities of later creating commercial activity from the Consumerium project.
In the third stage, when the software is almost ready, we will start discussions with wholesalers and retailers about importing the contents of their own databases and information systems into the Consumerium system and about launching a pilot application for public use. A basic condition for the launch of a pilot application is that the technology necessary for identifying a product and wireless networking has to be available on the market, preferably in consumer-priced devices. The ways of identifying a product are:
- The most primitive approach is users typing in the product's EAN Code manually into their mobile device.
- When mobile phones get equipped with digital cameras, the EAN code can be photographed and sent to an image recognition server, which identifies the product by the label's lines or numbers and sends the information back to the agent.
- Shopping carts equipped with bar code scanners that connect to the device using a wireless connection. This is obviously more expensive, but quicker and more reliable, than option 1. Shops would have to be persuaded to buy the scanners (because the system has to be completely free for the consumer), otherwise the system's usage would never reach critical mass.
In this stage, it is essential to reach as many consumers as possible, and tell them what to do so that supermarket chains would participate in the system. When the critical mass of consumers that wishes/demands access to the system from their retailers is reached, the rest will be sorted by market economy. The goal of the third stage is to sign a contract with a major supermarket chain, obligating it to provide the necessary hardware, data connection, and their own product informations, so that a pilot application can be launched.
The fourth stage is the globalization of the system. In this stage, we want to create a global network of Consumerium associations. Each country's association leads and manages the implementation process in their country, taking care of the installation of necessary systems and monitoring information gathering in their area.
The essential goal of the fourth stage is the creation of a international team consisting of reliable operatives who input and update information. The most obvious allies in this stage are NGOs that focus on consumer awareness and responsibility. Other possible allies are the media, especially the contribution of financial journalists to ensure the validity of company information, national and EU consumer security institutions, producers, and resellers.