Community Driven Adjudication
Many years ago I got kicked off of a site. I have no idea what I did or who complained about me. The reason listed was "other". I tried, for about a year, to engage the administration to get my account reinstated. No luck. Not even a response.
The problem with the site was that it was popular. So popular that its growth of users outstripped the effort in administration. It's a common problem that happens in almost any computer forum. It irked me that this was just "one of those things". A natural result of the mechanics of the internet.
But it bugged me. So I thought about it. I talked with my wife about it. We brainstormed for a while and came up with an idea. A way to make the administration of a site scale with the number of users. We actually thought it was a pretty good idea. So we wrote it all up, created examples and use cases, and submitted it to my employer, IBM, as a patent disclosure.
But there was a problem with that. Not a problem with the idea. A problem with the process. My wife was not an IBM employee. This made things complicated. Although there was space on the form for non-IBMers to be entered, it was explained to me that the intent was for people with whom IBM had a "working relationship". Academics or other companies we were pursuing joint projects with. They had never had a situation like this. They had to think about it.
When lawyers think. They think hard. And they often take a long time about it. So they thought about it a lot. One of us would poke the other every couple of months. In the mean time the idea (and several others) were put on hold. After several years of this, they came to their conclusion: it couldn't be done
They had a few points. Say she signs away all of her rights to the idea (which is normal, since they are footing the bill of pursuing the patent), and gets paid some sort of honorarium. Then the patent turns out to be a $1,000,000 patent. Well, she would have grounds to later sue IBM for unfair compensation. Another quirk of patent law is that when multiple people can come up with the ideas in a single patent, each one of them can individually sell/rent/license the bits of the idea they thought of. Weird, but there you go. So, any action involving the patent would need her cooperation, or the risk of watering down the use of it. All this "risk" changed the balance of the equations and meant the patent could not be accepted in that format. What I had to do was go back, isolate the ideas that she had contributed, and remove them from the submission.
IBM is the most prolific producer of patents in America. Although it sounds rather aggressive, they are actually generally pretty well thought of in the industry for the quality of their patents and the reasonableness of the terms of their licensing. Although the natural assumption would be that they would act like the bull in the china shop, the fact that they have so much value tied up in patents gives IBM an extremely vested interested in keeping the system working well. There are many things I would fault in the process IBM uses internally for turning invention disclosures into patents. Refusing to let me co-file with my wife is not one of them. I see their points, and although annoyed as an individual, I agree as a stockholder.
Unfortunately, it took five years from the lightbulb time to the legal rejection. Several more months to resubmit. The system for submitting patents had changed into rather a more confrontational environment. IBM likes its spot as the #1 submitter of patents. However, it also doesn't like to be too far ahead of the pack. So the process follows a natural ebb and flow where at some points it is easy, and other points it is not. My resubmission happened to hit a time when it was not. I was unable to convince the patent review committee of the value of my idea and it got rated PUBLISH.
But, at least, it was out of the system and would be released to make the world a better place. However, the official means of publication was by abstract only, on some obscure website. All the detail and use cases would not fit into the rather draconian length limits for an abstract. I was not really happy with the idea that the bulk of the idea would be indiscernible from such a brief treatment. But IBM has a process for just about everything. After inquiring a bit, I found the process for "self publication", navigated it, and now have official permission to give away my idea.
You see, IBM really does own my brain. Anything I think of, on the job, or off of it, is, technically, owned by IBM. Practically they are pretty reasonable about such things, so it isn't that onerous a contract clause. If I write some silly role-playing game aids on the internet, they aren't really going to try to stop me publishing them, or even making some pocket change with them. If I come up with a crazy awesome new way of doing business in a market they compete in, they will take notice. There's a sort of mutual respect thing going on there which is not unreasonable.
And this brings us to the final chapter of the saga. The draft I submitted contained all the ideas, but it wasn't terribly well presented, proof read, or laid out. They aren't expected to be at that point. However, that draft is what IBM legal signed off on allowing me to publish. I'd love to clean it up, add a few more examples, some practical explanation, and a few new ideas I've had. However then we go back into the "IBM owns my brain" problem. IBM legal has not signed off on any of that. If I make any change at all, and the world later realizes what a crazy awesome idea this is, then there can be questions about if I should have published those ideas. If I publish it exactly as signed off, it is all cut and dried; black and white.
So, please consider this a first draft. The general outline of an idea for leveraging your users to help administer a website. It just might be a little hard to get your head around in the present format. There are some really cool directions the idea can go in, but they may not be all clear from the text. Feel free to talk to my wife or I about them. Feel free to build upon them. The idea has been released into the public domain. Go forth and make our websites better!