James Governor's Monkchips

Ben Rockwood on OSS and The Contribution Society

Share via Twitter Share via Facebook Share via Linkedin Share via Reddit

The Blog of Ben Rockwood

“When I contribute to a project its because I enjoy it and like to help, not because I get something from it. I’ve never made a penny from a project that I’ve worked on. In fact, in all my years, outside of my employment, I’ve only been paid for the Oracle book that SAGE published, and some people have graciously donated gear to me to whom I’m eternally greatful. Perhaps I have a diffrrent view, but this is all about people, not organizations. I didn’t write Toasterview so that some mega-bank didn’t have to shell out for OpenView, I wrote it because the admin working for that mega-bank had cheap ass management that wouldn’t give him what he needed, and I wanted to make that guys life a little easier. I don’t write docs because I think i’m gonna gain, I write it because I want to give to my fellow admins and developers something that I didn’t have.”

I can see why Simon Phipps would point to open source as “connected capitalism”… given the audience he was talking to at OSBC. But given he used that phrase, assuming he did, is it any surprise that many open source contributors would feel alienated? Simon is smart enough to know how these comments will be taken, and to cry “ignore the press” kind of misses the mark. If you need to call out a Scott McNealy-style apologism, the kind that smart Sun execs know only too well: “what he really meant was…” then you’re surely just not framing successfully.

pay at the point of deployment” is a clarification?

Trying, for the sake of discussion, to boil OSS into capitalism is like boling old horse bones down into glue – the result is a sticky mess, which loses the skeleton that made the horse worthy of study in the first place.

I don’t mind an analysis that looks at why capitalism is interested in using OSS – but to go the other way and boil down the phenomenon into self-interest is reallty just to fall into austistic economics thinking.

I should stress that I am reacting to Ben, reacting to an article he read about what Simon said, rather than referring to Simon’s speech itself. But I think Ben’s argument is worth bearing in mind. In many cases Its not about self-interest, even enlightened self-interest, but helping people and making a contribution.

If our economics can’t explain the phenomenon, then we need a more effective economics. Economic thinking, as it stands, does a pretty poor job of explaining why OSS is thriving.

We need to be able to reverse out of the current thought model, to work on a new, more inclusive and accurate framework…

I am sure Simon has been misrepresented, and I look forward to hearing more on the hows and whys of OSS from Simon. He is one of smartest thinkers on the subject, period.

But you can’t argue with Ben Rockwood’s passion or his contribution.


  1. You and Ben are discussiong points that are so far disconnected from the point of my keynote it’s almost impossible to start from what either of you are saying and correct it. The ZDNet article was complete junk, not unusual for them, intended just to cause outrage and page hits. You’re both getting outraged at a journalistic abuse of a rhetorical comment you would have applauded in context.

    Suffice to say that I did not “call for” anything in my talk, and the phrase “connected capitalism” was used – at the end of a slide all about how open source works by everyone contributing what they want without compulsion and using what they need without restriction – as a counterpoint to people who try to call open source “communism”. Think Benkler.

    Check out Dana Blankenhorn’s comments[1] (complete with my observations). It’s high time we shunned the UK tech press.

    [1] http://www.danablankenhorn.com/2006/06/how_misundersto.html

  2. James, you are misunderstanding economics and the concept of self-interest. Economics is simply a way of explaining how scarce resources are allocated, and why people behave in a certain way given many and varied stimuli. As I understand it, many economists have explained why open source works in certain situations. One can look at a free market (capitalist) model for how this is done, or, at the other extreme, a North Korean style communist model, and of course, everything in between.

    The concept of self-interest cannot be understood by looking at how much money someone expects to make/save through a certain action. It is of course much broader than that. People act in a way that satisfies their own needs: their need to make/save money, their need to contribute to society, to volunteer, to watch football, etc. Your friend Ben provides a perfect example of someone acting in his own self-interest (the desire for a sense of happiness by doing others a good turn). And of course, in so doing, he IS helping others (one assumes). But in this regard, he really is no different to Adam Smith’s butcher and baker (I forget the other chap…might have been a brewer) who act in their own self interest by providing goods that others will pay for. Whether money changes hands or not is immaterial to the concept of self-interest.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *