Friday, April 28, 2006

The wealth of networks: The economics of open source collaboration

Yochai Benkler, professor of law at Yale, has written an interesting book, The Wealth of Networks analyzing the economics of the open source movement.

He was recently interviewed at Open Business, and observed
“commons-based peer production” means any one of a wide range of collaborative efforts we are seeing emerging on the Net in which a group of people engages in a cooperative production enterprise that effectively produces information goods without price signals or managerial commands... The critical defining feature of these “enterprises” is that they rely primarily on social information flows, motivations, and relations to organize the group. Individuals self-identify, mostly, for tasks, and through a variety of peer-review mechanisms contributions get recognized by the group and incorporated into what emerges as the collaborative output.
Learning to harness the power of these self-formed networks is an incredibly big idea.

1 comment:

Steve Stevenson said...

Open source is an interesting concept that I fully support. It started at MIT with the "GNU" project (GNU stands for something but you don't want to hear it:-) It started as a backlash to the way system software was marketed and maintained. At least to the open sourcers, open source is antithetical to MicroSoft.

The are several models, but primarily the GNU model with the GNU Pulic License (GPL) and the model, or the Open Source Initiative (OSI). Open source means roughly that: the source code is available for the purchaser. The open source may be modified. Under GPL, the code cannot be "closed" and most be open to all. OSI has several versions. I'm no lawyer.

Most readers probably are aware the Linux is a open source version of Unix. The exact economics (not an economist, either) are still not completely worked out. The basic philsophy is "derived value added." For example, I believe Red Hat makes its money by adding documentation, training, etc.

Open source is attractive to anarchists like me :-) in the sense that source can be modified to develop new areas without complete re-development. The original idea (the GNU idea) was that all system software such as compilers and operating systems should be open to developers free of charge. This is attractive to academics like me because we don't have development shop not the 3-5 years it takes to develop a commercial grade product; in my case, languages.

Is open source a cure-all? No. Is it useful? Probably. But it's a fast way to experiment and if the project pans out, it's a fast way to market.