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Article:
  There Is No Open Source Community
Subject:   The How, Not the Why
Date:   2006-01-13 10:33:26
From:   glynmoody
A nicely provocative article, but I think you are describing the how, not the why.


The Internet certainly led to a flowering of open source, for exactly the reasons you describe in considering Linux. It is also driving many of the most interesting developments in technology today, including open genomics (bioinformatics) and open content (blogs, Wikipedia etc.) - see http://opendotdotdot.blogspot.com/.


But as I found when interviewing all the top hackers for my book Rebel Code, the key free software programs were created because there was an exceptional individual (RMS, Don Knuth, Larry Wall, Eric Allman, Linus, etc. etc.) who had a driving compulsion to do so. Economics didn't enter into it.


Your article does, however, sum up well the dynamics that are likely to ensure that open source will eventually prevail in the long run.

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  • The How, Not the Why
    2006-01-13 16:58:22  john.mark [View]

    Many comments on the article focus on this point - that I'm discounting the contributions of individuals. It's not that I think individual contributors aren't highly talented, or that they did nothing of significance - they certainly did. It's just that there had to be an environment already in place for them to succeed as well as they have.

    Put it another way - the rising tide of distributed knowledge ensures that more and more talented individuals will have the power to create things of use to the world. Sort of like the old analogy - you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. Well, leading the horse to water is the same as the growing internet, and actually taking the drink will be those talented ambitious individuals that make things happen.

    I think it's a chicken or egg argument. Which came first, the talented open source programmer or the distributed knowledge base? One feeds the other. But in this scenario, the only way you get all those talented people contributing or even using a project is if they have the means to do so. The internet gives them that means.

    It's true that economics does not often enter into the decision-making process of individuals. However, the fact that the price of much software is asymptotic to zero accounts for a healthy open source ecosystem, from which many talented individuals decide to contribute something to the world.

    By the way, I loved your book. Thank you for sharing your comments!