Open source, altruism, and the business model problem

Summary:While at an event called Blognashville over the weekend it dawned on me that many open source projects, and bloggers, share a very basic problem. Their business processes seem backward.

While at an event called Blognashville over the weekend it dawned on me that many open source projects, and bloggers, share a very basic problem.

Their business processes seem backward.

Bloggers and open source projects often start with their own unmet needs. The bloggers want to be heard. Open source contributors want to use the result themselves. The producers, in other words, are also the consumers (not that there's anything wrong with that).

C. Daniel Batson

A business model works differently. A publisher starts with the market's needs in mind. What do people need, and how can I engineer a profit from it? That question becomes the engine that drives the train.

This backwards business process may be behind some of the contempt I sometimes read in the comments here for open source advocates.  Altruism is being confused with Communism.

All this might interest C. Daniel Batson (right, from a Science & Technology News interview last year). Batson's career is based on seeking empirical evidence for altruism.

Well, I got your evidence right here, Doc.  I also have an answer to the confusion over motives found on some posts to this blog (and in Microsoft's early attacks on open source).

Altruism, whether it comes from pure motives or because you see the benefits for yourself, is the act of free people. Communism requires sharing of everything only (in practice) some pigs are more equal than others.

In both open source and the blogosphere, business models are an option. IBM makes money. So do the folks running this site.

But altruism is an equally valid motive for participating in open source, or the blogosphere for that matter. Until recently it has been the dominant motive.

The question is whether, given all the money now pouring into the space, that will remain the case. The betting is it won't.

Place your own bets in TalkBack.  

Topics: Open Source

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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