HELSINKI (Reuters) - Encouraged by the unexpected success of their homemade film spoofing Star Trek, Finnish filmmakers Samuli Torssonen and Timo Vuorensola decided to create a bigger-scale, sci-fi comedy about Nazis living in space.
With little money or professional staff, the two asked fans for help and received 1 million euros. That, in turn, convinced German and Australian investors to offer several million more.
The new film Iron Sky, a tongue-in-cheek look at Nazis returning to Earth in 2018 after living on the dark side of the moon since 1945, is just one instance of a growing phenomenon in Finland and other Nordic countries - the use of crowdsourcing to make films, create laws or start up technology companies.
Nordic countries are leading the rest of the world in crowdsourcing, entrepreneurs say, with dozens of businesses following the lead of Finnish-born open-source software such as MySQL and Linux to take advantage of public enthusiasm and the region’s high education standards.
Some say it’s because Nordic peoples have been forced to work together to survive harsh winters when temperatures can drop to minus 40 degrees Celsius that they have flocked to crowdsourcing, when tasks are outsourced to a network of people or crowd.
Anecdotal evidence certainly suggests they punch above their weight compared with other Western countries.
“In Finland and other Nordic countries, we have had to work together against the forces of nature. I think this has had a deep impact,” said Joonas Pekkanen, founder of a new non-profit group called Open Ministry which invites the public to take part in trying to influence Finnish legislation.
“There is a spirit of working together and sharing the benefits of that work.”
In the past month since its launch, Open Ministry has collected around 140 ideas for possible laws, ranging from legalising euthanasia to dropping daylight savings.
Finland’s parliament has said it is open to any proposal with a minimum of 50,000 signatures, and Pekkanen expects the first bill from his venture to be voted on in early 2013.
He plans to replicate this system in other countries which have systems for citizens to propose laws, and said he had his sights on countries in eastern Europe as well as Spain.
Data for Wikipedia, the free online encyclopaedia, underlines this cultural anomaly among Finns and other Nordic people.
Around 100 out of every one million Finns have edited more than five Wikipedia articles, far above the average contribution rate of 23 per million among English-speakers. Norwegians, Icelanders and Estonians contribute to their local-language pages more frequently.
Two percent of the Finnish population have responded to the government’s call to help digitise the national archive by checking whether handwritten documents are properly transcribed online.
“Finns always want to participate: it’s a promised land of citizen organisations,” said Kai Lemmetty, whose crowdsourcing start-up Snipplist.com opened this week. It invites users to share articles and information online and aims to make money through advertising.
Newspapers have also been quick to take advantage of public - meaning free - enthusiasm. Norway’s largest daily Verdens Gang last month asked its readers to comb through large piles of government documents to look for graft after a minister was caught giving public funds to a friend’s self-defence course.
Finnish entrepreneur Ville Miettinen says the high cost of labour in the Nordics is also a major motivation for community-based software development.
“It’s difficult and expensive to hire people in the Nordics,” said Miettinen, co-founder of Microtask, which helps companies outsource parts of their work by finding small processes that can be done by anyone.
Some of the world’s most successful developments in open-source software, which freely share code and invites developers to improve products, were created in Northern Europe.
Linux, the world’s most popular operating system on servers, and database software MySQL, which was bought for $1 billion by Sun Microsystems which was in turn acquired by Oracle, both have Finnish roots.
Other open-source applications developed in Northern Europe include Norway’s QT software, which is used extensively for mobile app development, and Drupal, a Dutch content management system used for millions of websites.
MySQL’s founders, including the database’s creator Michael “Monty” Widenius, are looking for new investment targets, with community involvement a key criteria.
Newer Finnish start-ups like Audiodraft, which taps crowds to create new music, translation firm Transfluent and news photo service Scoopshot are also using crowdsourcing.
Filmmakers Vuorensola and Torssonen said they could never have finished their film, which opened this week in theatres in Finland, Norway, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, without their fans’ help.
Some travelled from the other side of the world to help with visual effects, which played a key part in the film’s battle scenes. While other films have used crowdsourcing before, the level of public engagement in the making of Iron Sky was unprecedented, director Vuorensola said.
“In addition to being fun, crowdsourcing gives you a lot of additional resources and it gives you a healthier view of what you are doing as it brings outsiders on board,” he said.
And there’s more to come.
The crowdsourcing web page that helped make Iron Sky is now being used for planning an opera.
Hundreds of contributors have helped create “Free Will”, a crowdsourced opera with a plot even more bizarre than that of Nazis in space: Oscar Wilde, Joan of Arc and Mozart battle corrupt world leaders.
The show will premier at Finland’s Savonlinna Opera Festival in July.
Additional reporting by Joachim Dagenborg in Oslo; editing by Elizabeth Piper