open source is/isn’t

Til the weekend, I may not have enough time to respond to the good comments on the Red Penguin series distinguishing the thoughts of Marx from the 20th century implementers of Marxism.
But wanted to add a few thoughts about the motivation behind the series. I first wrote Love and Money and Red Penguin as reflections on Benkler — and added the narrative link to Marxism because it was the Hunter article that led me down that path.
Peer production — open source software, wikipedia, weblogs and the rest — is a new way of organizing creation and people.
What’s most interesting is understanding how this wonderful thing works — what are the principles, properties, processes and passions that make the whole thing go, and that make particular things thrive.
So, the interesting avenues to follow, after the classics by Raymond and Benkler and the FSF crew, are the practitioners and observers who are doing it and figuring it out. Good references welcome.
Analogies to existing frameworks like Marxism are interesting inasmuch as they shed light on this new thing.

3 thoughts on “open source is/isn’t”

  1. I think there are two interesting issues.
    The first is that Marx wouldn’t speculate much about alternatives to capitalism. That can be spun in a positive light (he felt that was to be worked out post-revolution, with the benefit of the knowledge of the time, and not to be second-guessed by him) or negatively (what use is a criticism without practical suggestions?).
    But in general, most left theories are weak on practical alternatives. The emphasis is on criticism.
    Now along comes what you describe as “peer production” economy. And given the emphasis on voluntarism and “gifts” and free advice and help, rather than tightly-accounted exchange, it clearly might be a pattern for a non-capitalist (segment of) economy. That’s certainly a (growing) hope among some on the left. At least it’s something that seems compatible with left-values and which demonstrably works, which is a rare thing.
    The second thing that’s interesting follows from this. There are no neutral attempts to “explain” peer-production. Right now, it’s a hot topic which left and right are fighting for the rights to.
    More and more, I’m convinced the Raymond “bazaar” explanation is a deliberate political move. Not just to rebrand Free Software and business friendly “open source” but to actually give an individualist, market-oriented story to *head off* the success of free software being appropriated by the left.
    I’m not saying this was totally conscious, but it was certainly in the pattern of his thinking to search for individualistic / propertarian explanations and to resist attempts to explain it in terms of “the community wanted to”.

  2. Just found your blog. I was especially struck by this comment:
    “What’s most interesting is understanding how this wonderful thing works — what are the principles, properties, processes and passions that make the whole thing go, and that make particular things thrive.”
    One of those things where “an idea whose time has come” emerges simultaneously all over the place. We seem to be moving (finally!) beyond observing the phenomenon to wondering about purpose.
    I recently wrote an article, first appearing on Consortium Standards Bulletin, now to be published in upcoming “The Standards Edge – Open Season, edited by Sherrie Bolin:
    The article, titled:
    A Lever Long Enough: Value-driven enterprise in the networked information economy, is at
    It’s written for a lay business audience, but discusses exactly what you have talked about, and zeroes in on the purpose driving the enterprise, and on how the new means of production empower a new alternative economic vision.
    Love to know what you and your reader’s think.
    Not meant as a plug, more as someone who has been mulling these things over in isolation, just now discovering a whole community of social architects thinking along the same lines. It’s exciting.

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