Carr Misreads Benkler

by on August 8, 2006 · 40 comments

Nick Carr fundamentally misunderstands Yochai Benkler’s thesis about peer production and its relationship to markets and the firm:

One thing that becomes clear from the discussion [comparing Wikipedia to OSS] is how dangerous it is to use “open source” as a metaphor in describing other forms of participative production. Although common, the metaphor almost always ends up reducing the complex open-source model to a simplistic caricature.

The discussion also sheds light on a topic that I’ve been covering recently: Yochai Benkler’s contention that we are today seeing the emergence of sustainable large-scale production projects that don’t rely on either the pricing system or management structure. Benkler’s primary example is open source software. But panelist Siobhan O’Mahony’s description of the evolution of open source projects reveals that they have become increasingly interwoven with the pricing system and increasingly dependent on formal management structure.

Libertarians have long recognized that the firm and the market can be mixed and matched in complex ways. Firms obviously rely on markets to obtain raw materials and to sell their finished products. Markets are also organized by firms, as in the case of the New York Stock Exchange. Firms also sometimes use markets internally, as with Koch industries, which uses “market based management” to give individual divisions within their firm greater incentives to productivity. Moreover, as Coase described, firms constantly face decisions about which of its goals they should accomplish internally (i.e. using the methods of the firm) and which they should outsource (i.e. use the methods of the market). No one would claim that any significant industry could be run purely as “markets” or purely as “firms.”


Benkler’s claim is that peer production is a new model for organizing economic activity that’s on par with, and often interdependent upon, firms and markets, in precisely the same way that firms and markets are intertwined with each other. He describes how peer production is often combined with firms and markets in a variety of innovative ways. For example, he describes one firm that uses peer-production-like processes to maintain their internal documentation. Benkler has never claimed that peer production renders markets and firms irrelevant, simply that they are being supplanted in particular cases where peer production works better.

Hence, the fact that some of the largest open source projects are organizing themselves in firm-like structures is an example of Benkler’s thesis. So is the fact that firms are contributing to open source projects. In the former case, an effort that had initially been organized on a “pure” peer production model discovered that some of their goals could be achieved more efficiently using the methods of the firm. In the latter case, a firm discovered that some of its goals could be more efficiently accomplished using the methods of peer production.

Carr then quotes a report arguing that whereas open source projects were once “self-governing, accepting volunteer contributions with most participants motivated by the cause,” most are now supported by a “majority of volunteers are sponsored by vendors, well-supported by in-kind donations of hardware, marketing and legal services.” This is silly; it’s akin to saying that now that Google and Microsoft are billion-dollar companies, there are no more software startups. Of course as open source projects get larger, they’ll find the methods of firms and markets useful to accomplish some of their goals. Of course the highest-profile projects have generated significant attention and support from mainstream software companies. There are more small, decentralized, “pure” open source projects than ever, and some of those will be tomorrow’s Apaches and Firefoxes, just as there are lots of small startups today, a few of which will be tomorrow’s Googles and Microsoft’s.

Despite their adopting some of the methods of firms and markets, projects like Firefox and Apache remain fundamentally oriented toward peer production. The crucial difference is what Benkler calls indirect appropriation. In the traditional proprietary software model, an individual or firm produces a piece of software so that he can gain exclusive rights to it and sell those rights to others. This is the “market” method of organization. Not surprisingly, this is the dominant organizational scheme for the production of tangible goods because making copies of tangible goods is expensive. GM wouldn’t be able to give away cars and make it up on service contracts. Benkler calls this market-oriented production scheme “direct appropriation.”

The commercial employees who contribute to Linux, Mozilla, Apache, and other open source projects, in contrast, are rely on indirect appropriation. They give away their efforts for free and depend on a variety of ancillary benefits to make it worth their trouble. They sell service contracts, integrate the software into their own products, use their participation as a marketing opportunity, and use their influence over the evolution of the process to help strengthen their firm’s market position. What they don’t attempt to do is assert proprietary rights over the software they produce, the way that virtually all firms making tangible widgets do.

The fundamental issue here is that IBM’s relationship to other open source developers is intrinsically different from its relationship to commercial vendors with whom they buy and sell proprietary rights in software they’ve produced. The fact that IBM pays its employees for both activities, or that they make a profit from doing so, in no way changes the fact that peer production is a new and important way to organize the creation of intangible products.

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel

    Simply because open source folks collaborate or work under commercial institutions, does not reduce the fact that they are open source developers.

    To clarify things, lets distinquish several things. 1)peer-production, which can mean developers within a firm, or across collaborating firms, from open source peer production 2) developing open source code as a volunteer v as a paid developer. Its easy to conflate two meanings of “open source”, as it signifies both a development approach as well as code falling under particular licenses. Tim, I gather here’s where you and Nick disagree.

    While important, Benkler’s work should also distinquish open source projects with business models (or even aspirations), and those without. Although writing code can be an “economic activity” its a stretch to say that volunteer open source development with no business model is “economic activity” even if the developer is drawn by non-monetary incentives.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    Noel,

    I’m not sure I follow your first distinction. You’re saying that there’s such a thing as closed-source peer production? That certainly wouldn’t be peer production as Benkler describes it.

    I also don’t understand why you think we should exclude open source projects without “business models” (by this do you mean plans for commercial spinoffs?) from our definition of economic activity. “Economic” is defined by Merriam-Webster as being related to “production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.” Clearly, many non-commercial open source efforts create intangible goods that compete directly with proprietary software products. Why do the motives of the developers matter?

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel

    Closed-source peer production would be akin to a vertically dis-integrated development organization(s).

    I’ve heard of Merriam-Webster’s definition of “economic” and agree with it. However, to call non-business oriented open source software “economic” would be a vast assumption. I can go to Source Forge right now, tinker around, but would that be economic activity?

    Just because code is sitting on SourceForge, or the new Google repository, and perhaps eventually downloaded and implemented, do consumers ever bat an eye, and does the code really compete with proprietary technologies. Some open source programs do, and they compete well, but I would not conflate the open source method with specific open source projects. Specific open source projects compete with proprietary technologies, while most projects falling under the open source method probably don’t get to that point.

    I see now that you understand Benkler’s view of “peer production” as meaning everyone who contributes to an open source project at all is a part of any eventual commercial activity that project rolls-up into. Does that mean that by giving feedback to Adobe’s or RealNetwork’s surveys that I’m part of their economic activity?

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel

    Simply because open source folks collaborate or work under commercial institutions, does not reduce the fact that they are open source developers.

    To clarify things, lets distinquish several things. 1)peer-production, which can mean developers within a firm, or across collaborating firms, from open source peer production 2) developing open source code as a volunteer v as a paid developer. Its easy to conflate two meanings of “open source”, as it signifies both a development approach as well as code falling under particular licenses. Tim, I gather here’s where you and Nick disagree.

    While important, Benkler’s work should also distinquish open source projects with business models (or even aspirations), and those without. Although writing code can be an “economic activity” its a stretch to say that volunteer open source development with no business model is “economic activity” even if the developer is drawn by non-monetary incentives.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    Noel,

    I’m not sure I follow your first distinction. You’re saying that there’s such a thing as closed-source peer production? That certainly wouldn’t be peer production as Benkler describes it.

    I also don’t understand why you think we should exclude open source projects without “business models” (by this do you mean plans for commercial spinoffs?) from our definition of economic activity. “Economic” is defined by Merriam-Webster as being related to “production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.” Clearly, many non-commercial open source efforts create intangible goods that compete directly with proprietary software products. Why do the motives of the developers matter?

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    I’m not claiming that all open source projects are economic activity. If I write a “Hello, World” program and upload it to Source Forge, I haven’t exactly increased the nation’s wealth. But I don’t think the existence or absence of a “business model” is the right standard. What makes an open source project “economic activity” is whether the end product is something that others find useful. An open source project that develops a widely used piece of software is engaged in economic activity, regardless of whether anyone plans to start a business based on it.

    Where I disagree with Carr is that I think he’s setting up a straw man of Benkler’s position. Carr suggests that Benkler believes that “open source exists in some purified space outside the world of pricing and management.” I think that’s wrong for two reasons: First, Benkler never said that peer production ruled out any involvement for firms and markets. And secondly, I think Carr underestimates the extent to which peer production continues to be the central organizing principle of open source software projects.

    An IBM engineer who contributes to the Linux kernel is certainly taking orders from his boss. But the people with whom he’s collaborating have other bosses at other companies. You can’t say this proves that Linux is organized according to a “firm” organizational structure, since the collaborators don’t have a single boss. Linus Torvalds (and those he anoints to manage particular sections of the kernel) do have control over the evolution of the kernel, but their role is passive: they accept patches that are submitted to them and suggest worthwhile enhancements. They don’t order particular developers to contribute particular improvements.

    The hierarchical, non-profit foundations that have sprouted up to support large projects like Apache are also not firms in the traditional sense. The Apache Software Foundation, for example, does provide server space, legal advice, etc to the Apache developers. But it doesn’t direct the technical development of the Apache server; those decisions are made by consensus by a committee of long-time Apache developers. Apache doesn’t have a project manager that assigns developers to tasks the way a project manager at Microsoft decides who’s going to do which parts of the IIS web server.

    So yes, large open source projects have some aspects of firms or markets. But that neither disproves Benkler’s thesis, nor does it change the fact that projects like Linux and Apache are still fundamentally organized using the model of peer production.

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel

    Closed-source peer production would be akin to a vertically dis-integrated development organization(s).

    I’ve heard of Merriam-Webster’s definition of “economic” and agree with it. However, to call non-business oriented open source software “economic” would be a vast assumption. I can go to Source Forge right now, tinker around, but would that be economic activity?

    Just because code is sitting on SourceForge, or the new Google repository, and perhaps eventually downloaded and implemented, do consumers ever bat an eye, and does the code really compete with proprietary technologies. Some open source programs do, and they compete well, but I would not conflate the open source method with specific open source projects. Specific open source projects compete with proprietary technologies, while most projects falling under the open source method probably don’t get to that point.

    I see now that you understand Benkler’s view of “peer production” as meaning everyone who contributes to an open source project at all is a part of any eventual commercial activity that project rolls-up into. Does that mean that by giving feedback to Adobe’s or RealNetwork’s surveys that I’m part of their economic activity?

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    I’m not claiming that all open source projects are economic activity. If I write a “Hello, World” program and upload it to Source Forge, I haven’t exactly increased the nation’s wealth. But I don’t think the existence or absence of a “business model” is the right standard. What makes an open source project “economic activity” is whether the end product is something that others find useful. An open source project that develops a widely used piece of software is engaged in economic activity, regardless of whether anyone plans to start a business based on it.

    Where I disagree with Carr is that I think he’s setting up a straw man of Benkler’s position. Carr suggests that Benkler believes that “open source exists in some purified space outside the world of pricing and management.” I think that’s wrong for two reasons: First, Benkler never said that peer production ruled out any involvement for firms and markets. And secondly, I think Carr underestimates the extent to which peer production continues to be the central organizing principle of open source software projects.

    An IBM engineer who contributes to the Linux kernel is certainly taking orders from his boss. But the people with whom he’s collaborating have other bosses at other companies. You can’t say this proves that Linux is organized according to a “firm” organizational structure, since the collaborators don’t have a single boss. Linus Torvalds (and those he anoints to manage particular sections of the kernel) do have control over the evolution of the kernel, but their role is passive: they accept patches that are submitted to them and suggest worthwhile enhancements. They don’t order particular developers to contribute particular improvements.

    The hierarchical, non-profit foundations that have sprouted up to support large projects like Apache are also not firms in the traditional sense. The Apache Software Foundation, for example, does provide server space, legal advice, etc to the Apache developers. But it doesn’t direct the technical development of the Apache server; those decisions are made by consensus by a committee of long-time Apache developers. Apache doesn’t have a project manager that assigns developers to tasks the way a project manager at Microsoft decides who’s going to do which parts of the IIS web server.

    So yes, large open source projects have some aspects of firms or markets. But that neither disproves Benkler’s thesis, nor does it change the fact that projects like Linux and Apache are still fundamentally organized using the model of peer production.

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel

    Carr still makes a good point though. Tim, while you see the relation of open source production parallel or complementary to firm organization, Benkler does pitch open source beyond its role as simply an input. We’re still a far way from open source being “on par” with other forms of economic activity.

    The term open source is so ill-defined that you see open source advocates crediting it with basically anything not-for-profit, involves cross-firm sharing, outside the standard proprietary model. Heck, I’ll even throw “relies on selling complementary services or products in there too” (this is in response to some silly post on TechDirt that suggested musicians leave the RIAA, and start selling T-shirts and hats by drawing fans with their music). Probably the funniest analogy I’ve seen called open source is academic scientists working under heavy government and industry contracts, who freely disseminate their research; there’s no issue called misappropriation in such cases, and somebody is actually ponying up the money for the work.

    As far as we’re talking industrial organization, I would personally opt for Berkeley professor Henry Chesbrough’s definition of open source as that which involves a business model, and revolves around a set of licenses. Open source may be important, and have its role in software development, buts its highly dependent on more commercially oriented activity.

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    Noel,

    That is true of some major open source project, but not true of others. Most popular open source development tools were written with only minimal commercial input. Perl, Python, Ruby and the GNU tools are good examples of that.

    Now, it is true that commerically-oriented activity has been pivotal for many more specific projects from Firefox to KDE. Still, what’s the point? I don’t think that anyone but purists, ie ideologues, would take issue with the notion that commercial enterprises have been very important to the development of these projects. For many of us, it’s not an ideology. I don’t see the point of even wasting your time with the ideologues like RMS as they tend to be on the fringe.

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel

    Carr still makes a good point though. Tim, while you see the relation of open source production parallel or complementary to firm organization, Benkler does pitch open source beyond its role as simply an input. We’re still a far way from open source being “on par” with other forms of economic activity.

    The term open source is so ill-defined that you see open source advocates crediting it with basically anything not-for-profit, involves cross-firm sharing, outside the standard proprietary model. Heck, I’ll even throw “relies on selling complementary services or products in there too” (this is in response to some silly post on TechDirt that suggested musicians leave the RIAA, and start selling T-shirts and hats by drawing fans with their music). Probably the funniest analogy I’ve seen called open source is academic scientists working under heavy government and industry contracts, who freely disseminate their research; there’s no issue called misappropriation in such cases, and somebody is actually ponying up the money for the work.

    As far as we’re talking industrial organization, I would personally opt for Berkeley professor Henry Chesbrough’s definition of open source as that which involves a business model, and revolves around a set of licenses. Open source may be important, and have its role in software development, buts its highly dependent on more commercially oriented activity.

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel

    Mike, actually I was wondering whether RMS is considered “on the fringe” within the open source movement. I’ve pointed out elsewhere that Bill O’Reilly and Linus Torvalds are respected individuals even in the proprietary world, but its the difficulty of distinquishing them from RMS and his general counsel Eben Moglen that makes me and others suspicious of open source.

    I like your statement that not “anyone but purists, ie ideologues, would take issue with the notion that commercial enterprises have been very important” to open source. This is where most discussions on open and proprietary software should begin, with the purists not involved…

    One of the first corporate adoptions of the open source business model came from IBM, under the leadership of the very capable Louis Gerstner. IBM’s marketing campaigns aside, Gerster, a former McKinsey executive, didn’t lead IBM in that direction without clear insight into how he could combine open source development and a business model. I write a bit about this here (http://weblog.ipcentral.info/archives/2006/08/chips_on_big_bl_1.html)

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    Noel,

    That is true of some major open source project, but not true of others. Most popular open source development tools were written with only minimal commercial input. Perl, Python, Ruby and the GNU tools are good examples of that.

    Now, it is true that commerically-oriented activity has been pivotal for many more specific projects from Firefox to KDE. Still, what’s the point? I don’t think that anyone but purists, ie ideologues, would take issue with the notion that commercial enterprises have been very important to the development of these projects. For many of us, it’s not an ideology. I don’t see the point of even wasting your time with the ideologues like RMS as they tend to be on the fringe.

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel

    Mike, actually I was wondering whether RMS is considered “on the fringe” within the open source movement. I’ve pointed out elsewhere that Bill O’Reilly and Linus Torvalds are respected individuals even in the proprietary world, but its the difficulty of distinquishing them from RMS and his general counsel Eben Moglen that makes me and others suspicious of open source.

    I like your statement that not “anyone but purists, ie ideologues, would take issue with the notion that commercial enterprises have been very important” to open source. This is where most discussions on open and proprietary software should begin, with the purists not involved…

    One of the first corporate adoptions of the open source business model came from IBM, under the leadership of the very capable Louis Gerstner. IBM’s marketing campaigns aside, Gerster, a former McKinsey executive, didn’t lead IBM in that direction without clear insight into how he could combine open source development and a business model. I write a bit about this here (http://weblog.ipcentral.info/archives/2006/08/c…)

  • http://www.blindmindseye.com MikeT

    I have pointed out time and again that open source makes sense for platforms because it serves as a great equalizer. Platforms are “not interesting” from a public policy perspective and from a practical purpose. Linux, Windows, OSX, XBox, etc. are not what matters. The applications built on them are what matter. Open source platforms serve as a way of keeping things stable because anyone can use them. There is no licensing problem for using Mono versus Microsoft’s .NET, for example.

    Where open source does not make much sense as a business model is in non-platform software. It cannot be supported on its own because people don’t need commercial support for CD burner software, IM clients, etc. Platform software is by its nature, so fundamental that there are a lot of users who will need that.

    On a side note, I always found James DeLong’s open cynicism toward open source amusing in light of this.

    I would say that RMS is indeed on the fringe today. The GNOME and KDE projects, for example, seem to be run by people who do not share his vision as they are both friendly to commercial developers and even get a lot of support from them. Additionally, many projects ranging from the who Apache group, to X.Org and the BSD projects never shared his goals to begin with.

  • http://www.blindmindseye.com MikeT

    I have pointed out time and again that open source makes sense for platforms because it serves as a great equalizer. Platforms are “not interesting” from a public policy perspective and from a practical purpose. Linux, Windows, OSX, XBox, etc. are not what matters. The applications built on them are what matter. Open source platforms serve as a way of keeping things stable because anyone can use them. There is no licensing problem for using Mono versus Microsoft’s .NET, for example.

    Where open source does not make much sense as a business model is in non-platform software. It cannot be supported on its own because people don’t need commercial support for CD burner software, IM clients, etc. Platform software is by its nature, so fundamental that there are a lot of users who will need that.

    On a side note, I always found James DeLong’s open cynicism toward open source amusing in light of this.

    I would say that RMS is indeed on the fringe today. The GNOME and KDE projects, for example, seem to be run by people who do not share his vision as they are both friendly to commercial developers and even get a lot of support from them. Additionally, many projects ranging from the who Apache group, to X.Org and the BSD projects never shared his goals to begin with.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    “… but its the difficulty of distinquishing them from RMS …”

    It’s really very simple. The Open Source people are concerned with a business model. The Free Software people are concerned with a moral stance. This is meant to be descriptive, not judgmental.

    Grasp this distinction, and they should be easy to tell apart.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    “… but its the difficulty of distinquishing them from RMS …”

    It’s really very simple. The Open Source people are concerned with a business model. The Free Software people are concerned with a moral stance. This is meant to be descriptive, not judgmental.

    Grasp this distinction, and they should be easy to tell apart.

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    Tim, did you delete my last comment or is it just my imagination?

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    Mike,

    We have a spam filter that tends to hold comments that have links in them. They get released when we have time to approve them.

    And I don’t think I agree that open source only works for platform products. GAIM is one of the best IM clients around. Firefox is arguably the best web browser on Windows and Linux.

    Obviously, open source programs often become platforms unto themselves, as with the various plugins and XUL extensions for Firefox. But I don’t think Firefox’s platform-ness is essential to its success.

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    Tim, did you delete my last comment or is it just my imagination?

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    Mike,

    We have a spam filter that tends to hold comments that have links in them. They get released when we have time to approve them.

    And I don’t think I agree that open source only works for platform products. GAIM is one of the best IM clients around. Firefox is arguably the best web browser on Windows and Linux.

    Obviously, open source programs often become platforms unto themselves, as with the various plugins and XUL extensions for Firefox. But I don’t think Firefox’s platform-ness is essential to its success.

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel

    Yeah, those spammers suck. Tim lets swap ISP addresses to block from our domains.

    Good to see RMS isn’t considered the icon among all open source fans. Whewwww…

    Seth, you make a good point.

    Tim, although a bit different that what I tried to explain, Seth calls out a distinction between commercial and non-commercial open source. Do you agree that she does this along the lines of open source software (commercial) v free software (“moral”).

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    I wasn’t talking about technical quality, but rather commercial viability.

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel

    Yeah, those spammers suck. Tim lets swap ISP addresses to block from our domains.

    Good to see RMS isn’t considered the icon among all open source fans. Whewwww…

    Seth, you make a good point.

    Tim, although a bit different that what I tried to explain, Seth calls out a distinction between commercial and non-commercial open source. Do you agree that she does this along the lines of open source software (commercial) v free software (“moral”).

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    I wasn’t talking about technical quality, but rather commercial viability.

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    Noel, give Akismet a try. There is a Movable Type version that your blog should be able to use. It is the best spam filter out there for WordPress and Movable Type.

  • Ned Ulbricht

    The Open Source people are concerned with a business model.

    Seth,

    I’d agree that most of the core open source promoters are concerned with a business model. But I’d say that the majority of open source developers are more concerned with a software engineering model.

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    Noel, give Akismet a try. There is a Movable Type version that your blog should be able to use. It is the best spam filter out there for WordPress and Movable Type.

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel Le

    Ned, while I don’t disagree with you, you should look at this post where I reviewed Henry Chesbrough’s new book on “open innovation.” It essentially describes open source software, as well as patents, in terms of forms of economic inputs and transactional methods. You might find it interesting because by placing open source and IP in the broader context of industrial organization, a lot of things referred to as “open source” such as peer-collaboration, distributed production, development modularization and “free” products/services are also leveraged by proprietary industry.(see here: http://weblog.ipcentral.info/archives/2006/08/open_innovation.html)

    Jim Harper said in another post that he views open source as a production model. He didn’t explain too much, and I wish he would have gone further with his citation to AOL in a discussion on open source. However, he did give me the idea that perhaps open source developers work like free lance journalists. These journalists don’t sell everything they write. Sometimes they write to build a personal portfolio, sometimes for fun, perhaps even to write about things that 9-5 journalists never write about. Free lance journalists can post their work on the web for free and accumulate readerships or cited/linked to by other sites. Perhaps they do this in their spare time or full time as part of a larger plan of building foundations for a career. There are many business models I can imagine arising from this scenario, yet it can exist without or peripherally related to a revenue stream.

    How does this scenario sound as an analogy for open source production? There are some limitations to the analogy, but I’m trying to grasp what everyone one here, as Libertarians, refers to as open source. Of course terms like “patent troll” are probably equally undefined, but everyone agrees that they don’t like trolls. With “open source” there’s a lot of disagreement, which makes less ambiguity valuable for discourse. Jim, Tim, Mike, Ned, Seth?

  • Ned Ulbricht

    The Open Source people are concerned with a business model.

    Seth,

    I’d agree that most of the core open source promoters are concerned with a business model. But I’d say that the majority of open source developers are more concerned with a software engineering model.

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel Le

    Ned, while I don’t disagree with you, you should look at this post where I reviewed Henry Chesbrough’s new book on “open innovation.” It essentially describes open source software, as well as patents, in terms of forms of economic inputs and transactional methods. You might find it interesting because by placing open source and IP in the broader context of industrial organization, a lot of things referred to as “open source” such as peer-collaboration, distributed production, development modularization and “free” products/services are also leveraged by proprietary industry.(see here: http://weblog.ipcentral.info/archives/2006/08/o…)

    Jim Harper said in another post that he views open source as a production model. He didn’t explain too much, and I wish he would have gone further with his citation to AOL in a discussion on open source. However, he did give me the idea that perhaps open source developers work like free lance journalists. These journalists don’t sell everything they write. Sometimes they write to build a personal portfolio, sometimes for fun, perhaps even to write about things that 9-5 journalists never write about. Free lance journalists can post their work on the web for free and accumulate readerships or cited/linked to by other sites. Perhaps they do this in their spare time or full time as part of a larger plan of building foundations for a career. There are many business models I can imagine arising from this scenario, yet it can exist without or peripherally related to a revenue stream.

    How does this scenario sound as an analogy for open source production? There are some limitations to the analogy, but I’m trying to grasp what everyone one here, as Libertarians, refers to as open source. Of course terms like “patent troll” are probably equally undefined, but everyone agrees that they don’t like trolls. With “open source” there’s a lot of disagreement, which makes less ambiguity valuable for discourse. Jim, Tim, Mike, Ned, Seth?

  • Ned Ulbricht

    Noel,

    Thanks for the url. It looks like an interesting book.

    [...] I’m trying to grasp what everyone one here, as Libertarians, refers to [...]

    Fwiw, I don’t mind being called a Libertarian—might even vote that way, on occasion, depending on the candidate. But I don’t usually idenify myself as a Libertarian. And I’m not sure that most others would identify me that way either.

    Instead, if I sound like I have libertarian attitudes, it’s more that I spent a good number of my formative years growing up in Alaska. That probably might have left me with some ingrained politico-cultural biases, so to speak. You can take the boy out of the last frontier….

  • Ned Ulbricht

    Noel,

    Thanks for the url. It looks like an interesting book.

    [...] I’m trying to grasp what everyone one here, as Libertarians, refers to [...]

    Fwiw, I don’t mind being called a Libertarian—might even vote that way, on occasion, depending on the candidate. But I don’t usually idenify myself as a Libertarian. And I’m not sure that most others would identify me that way either.

    Instead, if I sound like I have libertarian attitudes, it’s more that I spent a good number of my formative years growing up in Alaska. That probably might have left me with some ingrained politico-cultural biases, so to speak. You can take the boy out of the last frontier….

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

    I agree with Ned that open source is more a software engineering model than a business model. Open source advocates (and for that matter, free software advocates as well) believe that the open source process produces better software. That’s their primary focus. Figuring out how to pay the bills is obviously an important consideration, but “open source,” as a concept, isn’t focused on that question specifically. Often, you’ll find that different contributors to an open source project have different “business models”: some are paid to do it by their employers, some are consultants who use their participation to drum up busines son the side, some are hobbyists who do programming work they don’t like as much as their day jobs. Some are students or college professors, etc. Some open source projects (such as Red Hat and MySQL) spin off official business arms to provide consulting and support services, but others (such as Apache) leave it up to individual contributors to find a way to support themselves.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Noel, please do NOT call me a Libertarian! Them’s fightin’ words :-).

    Anyway, as someone deeply embedded in the debate, again, I use Open Source to denote the people who have no particular moral opposition to proprietary software, but believe source code access is simply a better business policy (which includes the above-mentioned software engineering issues), while Free Software denotes those who believe proprietary software is akin to censorship.

    What I think you’re describing is the Open Source rebuttal of the closed-source argument. The closed-source viewpoint is that restricted access is the *only* workable business model. The Open Source rebuttal is as you say, that *other* workable business models can be built by using different sources of economic returns to the participants.

    But, critically, Open Source is NOT DENYING CLASSIC ECONOMICS! It’s simply saying that closed-source is blinkered and limited in its framework. It’s a “10% of a lot rather than 100% of a little” type economic argument.

    Too many evangelists then make the mistake of saying that since the Open Source argument is about using different, more indirect, economic incentives, that’s somehow not economic at all, and WOW, IT’S A REVOLUTION WHERE PEOPLE WORK FOR FREE!!! This is very stupid, and confusing, but it sells, for a lot reasons.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

    I agree with Ned that open source is more a software engineering model than a business model. Open source advocates (and for that matter, free software advocates as well) believe that the open source process produces better software. That’s their primary focus. Figuring out how to pay the bills is obviously an important consideration, but “open source,” as a concept, isn’t focused on that question specifically. Often, you’ll find that different contributors to an open source project have different “business models”: some are paid to do it by their employers, some are consultants who use their participation to drum up busines son the side, some are hobbyists who do programming work they don’t like as much as their day jobs. Some are students or college professors, etc. Some open source projects (such as Red Hat and MySQL) spin off official business arms to provide consulting and support services, but others (such as Apache) leave it up to individual contributors to find a way to support themselves.

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel Le

    Seth, thats the most common sense I’ve seen on TLF in the past few days… after reading spring quarter law articles that explain economic concepts with poems (OMG) and listening to analogies on something as concrete as technological innovation its good to hear.

    Good job on the DMCA exemptions by the way.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Noel, please do NOT call me a Libertarian! Them’s fightin’ words :-).

    Anyway, as someone deeply embedded in the debate, again, I use Open Source to denote the people who have no particular moral opposition to proprietary software, but believe source code access is simply a better business policy (which includes the above-mentioned software engineering issues), while Free Software denotes those who believe proprietary software is akin to censorship.

    What I think you’re describing is the Open Source rebuttal of the closed-source argument. The closed-source viewpoint is that restricted access is the *only* workable business model. The Open Source rebuttal is as you say, that *other* workable business models can be built by using different sources of economic returns to the participants.

    But, critically, Open Source is NOT DENYING CLASSIC ECONOMICS! It’s simply saying that closed-source is blinkered and limited in its framework. It’s a “10% of a lot rather than 100% of a little” type economic argument.

    Too many evangelists then make the mistake of saying that since the Open Source argument is about using different, more indirect, economic incentives, that’s somehow not economic at all, and WOW, IT’S A REVOLUTION WHERE PEOPLE WORK FOR FREE!!! This is very stupid, and confusing, but it sells, for a lot reasons.

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel Le

    Seth, thats the most common sense I’ve seen on TLF in the past few days… after reading spring quarter law articles that explain economic concepts with poems (OMG) and listening to analogies on something as concrete as technological innovation its good to hear.

    Good job on the DMCA exemptions by the way.

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