Open Source Paradigm Shift

Last night I read Tim O’Reilly’s new article “The Open Source Paradigm Shift”. There’s a lot of good stuff in there, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone with an interest in Open Source or even just with an interest in where the IT industry is going.

The article has one of the best explanations I’ve seen of how Open Source software doesn’t reduce value, it helps to create value for the industry as a whole. Open Source software may be accelerating the commoditization of the software industry, but that commoditization was inevitable with or without Open Source.

There’s also some interesting stuff in there about network effects, and how the Open Source development process, Ebay, and Amazon all successfully leverage network effects in similar, but different ways.

For all that I like about the article, there is one point where I hope that O’Reilly is wrong. He says:

The values of the free and open source community are an important part of its paradigm. Just as the Copernican revolution was part of a broader social revolution that turned society away from hierarchy and received knowledge, and instead sparked a spirit of inquiry and knowledge sharing, open source is part of a communications revolution designed to maximize the free sharing of ideas expressed in code.


The lessons of previous paradigm shifts show us a more subtle and powerful story than one that merely pits a gift culture against a monetary culture, and a community of sharers versus those who choose not to participate. Instead, we see a dynamic migration of value, in which things that were once kept for private advantage are now shared freely, and things that were once thought incidental become the locus of enormous value.

To me, the revival of the gift culture is *the* most important part of the Free Software Movement. I hope that the “broader social revolution” that Free Software is part of isn’t just about “a communications revolution”. I hope that it’s about a rediscovery of the values of community, of working together toward a common goal. I hope that it’s about realizing that not everything in life needs to be about money and not everything in life needs to be directed by our employer, the government, or a “corporate sponsor”. We’re more than just “consumers”, or “eyeballs”, or even citizens. We’re people. And people can and should work together, help one another, and sometime even build something wonderful.

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