From a day-to-day point of view, open source still basically works. But our community is still living off the economic gains from software and from Internet collaboration. It’s like we’re loggers in a primeval forest, where you don’t have to be especially good at running a logging camp to make a living. But open source is on track to be displaced by other sets of norms and processes.
In important ways, open source is already starting to lose. New participation models borrow concepts from open source, but use Internet-enabled collaboration to build network effects and lock-in. For example, the “gig economy” and gamified data collection can take advantage of lightweight contributions without building common resources for all contributors. And software patent holders have learned how to participate in open source, but divert the wealth created by collaboration into existing rent-seeking models.
We need to understand what the potential pool of contributors is, what those people need from open source, and how to expand the number of people for whom open source is a rewarding activity. And the best ways to do that may not involve just doing open source “best practices” as usual. Open source is famously being used to transform other industries, but the way that open source projects work is remarkably risk-averse and lore-driven.
Very well said.
If this has any flaw, it’s that it seems focused on the making/pre-distribution part of software production, which is the part that free/open source is reasonably competitive in, even if possibly in long-term relative decline. We also need experiments aiming at transforming commons-based production so that it competes with and destroys proprietary production on distribution/marketing/sales and in policy.