Paul Graham on open source and blogging

Paul Graham on open source and blogging

Summary: In his keynote at the Tuesday night "extravaganza" at OSCON, Paul Graham made three points: People work harder on things they like The standard office is unproductive Bottom-up works better than top-down I hope this becomes an essay because there's lots in it that's worth spending more time thinking about. Some of it is in Hiring is Obsolete.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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In his keynote at the Tuesday night "extravaganza" at OSCON, Paul Graham made three points:

  1. People work harder on things they like
  2. The standard office is unproductive
  3. Bottom-up works better than top-down

I hope this becomes an essay because there's lots in it that's worth spending more time thinking about. Some of it is in Hiring is Obsolete. Here's some of the more provocative things Paul said (not verbatim, but hopefully I got the ideas right):

Someone who proposes to run Windows on servers ought to be prepared to explain what they know about servers that Google and Yahoo don't know.

What business ought to be getting out of open source isn't the software, but the process.

Open source (and blogging) has a Darwinian approach to enforcing quality. The audience can communicate with each other and the bad stuff gets ignored.

Business must learn that people work a lot harder on things they like. That's not news, but the structure of business doesn't exemplify this.

People don't switch to open source because they want to hack the code. People switch to Firefox because its better. Microsoft can't pay people enough to build something better than the people who are building it out of love.

On the web, the barrier for publishing your ideas is even lower than spouting them in a bar: you don't have to buy a drink and they let kids in.

We ought to call people who publish online "writers" not "bloggers." Now, you can read any writer you want. Print media isn't competing against the average quality of online writing. They're competing against the best. The same as Microsoft.

The NYT front page is a list of people who write for the NYTs. Del.icio.us is a list of people who are interesting. You can see them side-by-side. You can see how little overlap there is.

Blogs and open source software are made by people working at home. The average office is a miserable place to get work done. What makes them done are the very qualities we equate with professionalism. The average office environment is to productivity what flames painted on the side of a car are to speed. Start-up environments are more like home work environments. This is probably the most productive the company is ever going to be.

The reasons companies have fixed hours is that they can't measure productivity. The idea is that if you can't make people work, you can at least prevent them from having fun. If they're not having fun, they must be working! If you could measure what people really did, you wouldn't care when people worked.

The bigger problem is that the people pretending to work interrupt the people who are actually working. With so much time on their hands, they have to take up the slack with meetings. Meetings count for work, just like programming, but they're so much easier.

Open source and blogging show us what real work looks like.

Good ideas flow up from the bottom rather than flowing down from the top. This is the market model. For all their talk about free markets, companies are run like communist states. In the "channel" era, ideas flow top-down assign a reporter, edit the work, publish it.

Business can learn about open source in the same way that the gene pool learns about new conditions: the dumb ones will die.

Topic: Open Source

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3 comments
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  • Huh?

    "Blogs and open source software are made by people working at home."

    I see many blogs right here on ZDNet that, I don't think, are made by people working at home. And I thought many large companies, such as IBM, were employing open-source developers. We're told that's why it's still possible for an open-source developer to be paid for her work.

    Carl Rapson
    rapson
    • re: Huh?

      I think if you marry that statement with people working on open source because its more fun then it will make sense.
      Just because they are working at home doesn't necessarily meant they dont have a job as well
      barsteward
  • Very interesting perspective

    This guy is spot on when he talks about big business (Hiring is Obsolete paper). He has some very compelling arguments that young people should try to start a business instead of working for "the man". I would agree with most of them, although my personal experience wouldn't fit his model. I took most everyone's advice to take a year off after High School. It was a miserable existence, as Jimmy Carter made sure there were no jobs available at the time. I ended up taking my SATs and ACTs in the year AFTER High School - do you KNOW what you will score on these tests after you've been out of school for a year? Not very good is an understatement. So for me, trying out my "legs" after school was an unmitigated DISASTER, as it took 7 straight years of college (1spring and 1summer semester off - not consecutive) for me to become "salable". I broke the 5 digit annual salary when I was 28 . . .
    Roger Ramjet