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August 26, 2004


Chris Corrigan

There are all kinds of ways you can participate in the Open Source movement.

1. You can test software and send your impressions to the developers forums at Source Forge for example.

2. You can help developers design software by suggesting features or usability issues.

3. You can buy an improvement in the software by offering a sum of money to the developer that will write that little piece of functionality you need. Need a Czech speelchecker for your Open Source spreadsheet program? Offer $20 to someone to write it for you.

4. If you own a company and you get into using something like Open Office and your in house people write some improvements, you can make sure they release the code. Surprisingly many companies don't do this. They use the original code, tweak it and then keep it a secret citing intellectual property. That just ain't cricket! So senior managers can make sure that improved code gets cleared for release.

5. If you have other kinds of skills to offer, such as legal expertise, organizational administration or fundraising, you can offer these skills to the community of developers working on your favourite software package. Maybe they need to start an organization to finish their project and market it. Maybe they need legal or accounting expertise. Maybe they just need a small chunk of capital to buy a few months of time for the final release.

It's like anything really...what do bring to the table? What do you want to see happen? How can you help that come about?


Great quote and a very nice post. You almost get it, but you fall off the table at the end. Yes, $399 is too much for MSOffice, you can install OpenOffice for free which works very well today, and you can bet it will be better in a few years.

You have it right there in your quote, everyone expects that OSS will help them make more money. The primary reason for that is that software is always a big part of systems cost, and the more of these costs that go to commertial software horders, the less there is for everyone else. For most companies, technology is an expense, not a profit center.

Another way to look at it is the more we help each other as individuals and groups and create a robust commons to manage our collective resources wisely, the more productive we will be, and instead of that productivity always being mined by capital horders, the less is left for us to share. More productivity should mean more "rich use of leasure" for more people, not a race to oblivion.

Because intelectual property is non-rivalous, wide sharing enjoys increasing returns as more people share the burden of creating and developing intellectual works of all kinds.

This works just as well for all sorts of IP from movies, texts, audio to legal documents, organizational development tools, etc. Blogs too are the same sort of sharing and well demonstrated in this and your Ecclesology post.


Now I'm crossposting with Chris in the middle of the night. Great comment, thanks for laying out the details that way.

BTW, 4. is not a violation of the GPL and other sharing agreements. Some are even weaker, but GPL says you can have the source and modify, but if you distribute the code in any way, you have to make the code available. If you are only deploying it within your company operations, you only can keep it private. The modified code is still GPLed and it isn't clear whether someone "leaking" the modification back to the public would be doing anything wrong.

The real gray area is some thing like running and ASP (Application Service Provider), where customers pay a company for running certain applications and protecting their data. If the software is all GPLed you might make improvements and mods that you kept private, but sold the use of those features (along with all the contributed code).

The Free Software Foundation is thinking about a next generation, GPL Version 3. Eugene at Blue Oxen might have a role in runing a collaborative process to develop it. One thing to talk about is whether or how to address this seeming loophole.

Lenore Ealy

Ugh.. I just lost a longish post ( I HATE when that happens!) Here's the gist.. As someone for whom technology is largely a cost (yes, I use it, but I'm not reselling it), I have to do a cost/benefit analysis to determine whether paying the $299 for an MS upgrade is a better "deal" than engaging in some of these other sorts of activities with the developer community.

Finding a developer I trust, building a relationship, etc etc seem things to me that would cost me even more time and energy. At lot more effort on my part than simply making a credit card purchase.

Which brings me back to my question about whether the gift economy as depicted here doesn't really work better with a fairly homogeneous community of practice. If I choose to pony up the cash for a MS upgrade, it might actually allow me more time and resources to participate in other communities.

So, it seems that the virtue of the exchange economy is that it allows me to make choices about which communities I want to participate in. In other words, it allows me to choose when engagement is more valuable than mere transaction, and vice-versa. It also means I don't get to know my butcher, baker, and candlestick maker--and there is inevitably some loss in that.

While the open source community is an intriguing and inspiring phenomenon to me on multiple levels, I'm still struggling with how much of a lesson we can draw from it for thinking about community-at-large--for assessing and improving our overarching forms of social organization and thinking about questions such as the role of markets, corporate forms of organization, etc. Sometimes I believe we haven't really parsed these broader questions well enough, so we need to use caution in drawing our analogies too broadly.

[All that said, I wouldn't mind hiring a developer to consult with me on all my technology issues! I spend too much time on these matters as it is! But I'm a one-person shop, not a major corporation, so even that process is intimidating.]

Thanks for helping me think more deeply about these things!


I would claim you actually have a wider range of choices with respect to involvement with OS software. The list Chris posted is pretty complete, you can just use the code. Next step of involvement in my view is to engage with a learning circle to work one-on-one with peers to learn how to engage these complex systems and help each other work out problems.

One concept I'd like to try is to build a network of such circles, connected by access to a network of mentor/consultants that groups or individuals could bring in to teach and help them get the most out of their systems and software.
Your group might need help just downloading and installing OpenOffice and other OS tools, or an advanced group might want to learn about Linux. It would be up to the group to set the agenda, although you might want to first learn about the available options and their current maturity, etc.

The key element in this is that by pooling resources, any interest group large enough can afford to engage high quality technical talent to use OS tools and build custom applications and systems that address the groups requirements. Instead of having some self-interested salesman trying to tell you why his whiz-bang features address you organization's needs for X hundred grand or X million, you engage with your communities of interest and enter a collaborative cycle of design, innovation, implementation and evaluation that continually improves your process. It also connects you more tightly with your interest group as your organizations create person to person support relationships beyond the bondaries of your organization (or just yourself, for those of us with one man/woman shops). You not only get help choosing, building and running your systems from people with similar needs and level of engagement, but your organization will learn even more about what others have found to work or not with their organizations.

Face-to-face group processes, possibly modelled on Open Space, backed up by community tools hosted on the Internet can make this process even more efficient. When you begin to know people face-to-face and even on the phone, your on-line interactions take on additional depth. You are no longer just chatting, but potentially creating and nurturing long-term relationships and commitments. Even if the face-to-face events are infrequent, they refresh the relationships and things keep moving rapidly on-line in between. By the time we meet again both of our networks are strengthened and expanded and we bring new friends to the party and introduce them. These processes are exponential, like a pyramid scheme for giving.

Just talking about it here is a big contribution to the Commons as I said before. More people need to understand how and why cooperative processes are more efficient in the long run, and all of our interests to use and promote. If you get more engaged and involved it is more likely to be because you understand and support a larger vision that all of this is part of. All sorts of projects spinning out of the Giving Conference need similar help navigating these landscapes. To build robust institutions from the vision you need multi-disciplinary teams. Each of us tries to find the places and tasks where we can apply our unique talents to the collective vision.

Again, the Commons of OS software is just one Commons and new ones are forming all the time. The library you want to create could be a commons owned by the participants, all the stakeholders. The collective knowledge and experience represented in blogs, wikis and many other on-line resources is another. The content is just as important as the software, really moreso.

Chris Corrigan

I think that the Open Source movement is worth supporting. It makes for more rbust affordable and stable software.

Basically Open Source is an example of passion bounded by responsibility in action. Those are the same principles that underlie Open Space and a whole variety of business models as well, especially co-ops and producer collectives. Mountain Equiment Coop in Canada is one such example of how a co-op has become a manufacturer, retailer and philanthropic organization.

I'm still interested in following up on our Chicago conversation though about finding the parallel models in the public services sector. I think this is the answer to how to denationalize community with privatizing it.


Thanks, Chris. Yes, there is tremendous potential for bringing the style of production represented by Open Source and Open Space to public services.

I hope both of you have already seen the Cooperation in Business paper that Phil has found and linked at WB: I'm not finished reading it, but even just skimming you can see that it pulls together a lot of important ideas into a comprehensive framework. A must read.

Lenore Ealy

Have glanced at the paper but not read. Am rearranging--and thus of necessity rewiring--my office and network this weekend. This is when I really need a computer guru at hand! I get the network stable for about a week and thing corruption sets in for some reason.

Chris, I'm looking forward to following up on the conversations. I am pushed in the next three weeks to pull off a GI Joe birthday party for my son, who will be five on 9/10, finalize details of a colloquium on Kenneth Boulding I'm hosting for 18 people here 9/16-18, and finish editing/proofing the inaugural issue of our new publication--Conversations in Philanthropy. when I get that put to bed, I should be clear-headed enough to start talking seriously about how we might investigate some of these things together. I think the Conversations publication will be a terrific venue. And I'm eager to address the issues of both technology and cooperatives, in the spirit of "de-nationalizing" or "de-managing!"

Chris Corrigan

I'll be here. Have fun with GI Joe...


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