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For six years, the Internet Nexus served as my technology blog, but I've since started blogging at the SuperSite Blog instead. If you're looking for the blog, please head there. --Paul

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Ignorance of Crowds

Nicholas G. Carr tackles an issue related to my contention that there just isn't a lot of innovation occuring in the Linux space. Here's why:
The open source model has proven to be an extraordinarily powerful way to refine programs that already exist — Linux, for instance, is an elaboration of the venerable Unix operating system, and the open source Firefox browser builds on Netscape’s old Navigator — but it has proven less successful at creating exciting new programs from scratch. That fact has led some to conclude that peer production [the so-called "bazaar" model as described in the "The Cathedral and the Bazaar." --Paul] is best viewed as a means for refining the old rather than inventing the new; that it’s an optimization model more than an invention model.

What’s the bazaar good for, and what isn’t it good for?

First, peer production works best with routine or narrowly defined tasks that can be pursued simultaneously by a big crowd of people. It is not well suited to a job that requires a lot of coordination among the participants.

Second, because it requires so many “eyeballs,” open source works best when the labor is donated or partially subsidized. If Linus Torvalds had had to compensate all his “eyeballs,” he would have gone broke long ago.

Third, and most important, the open source model — when it works effectively — is not as egalitarian or democratic as it is often made out to be. Linux has been successful not just because so many people have been involved, but because the crowd’s work has been filtered through a central authority who holds supreme power as a synthesizer and decision maker.

If Raymond made a mistake in his paper, it was in drawing too sharp a distinction between the cathedral and the bazaar. They’re not two different and incompatible approaches to innovation. Their relationship is symbiotic. Without the bazaar, the cathedral model moves too slowly. Without the cathedral, the bazaar model lacks focus and discipline.
Good stuff, and a very interesting read. The important points about the lack of innovation in open source are towards the end: Please do check it out.

Thanks Ian!


[ Posted at 1:14 PM | Permalink ]


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