GNOME and the long tail of the commons

GNOME and the long tail of the commons

Summary: The source of the source is not the issue. What's important is that within the commons everyone has equal rights and equal responsibilities.

TOPICS: Open Source

Open source creates a commons.

The source of the source is not the issue. What's important is that within the commons everyone has equal rights and equal responsibilities.

The result is what Wired editor Chris Anderson called a "long tail." Contributions at the end may be esoteric, may be few and far between. But they're just as important in building the commons and its market as what's up-front.

You can see this in the GNOME Census, recently completed by Dave Neary of Neary Consulting. Red Hat is by far the largest contributor, with 17% of all total code commits, and 9 of the top 20 committers.

Somehow this leaves Andrew Orlowski at The Register shocked -- shocked! Where are the contributions from Google, from IBM, from HP, from Canonical for gosh sakes? Shouldn't we just call it the Red Hat UI and sell licenses?

Uh, no. Everyone is free to take just as everyone is free to give, and that is what makes the idea powerful. GNOME is far more valuable to Red Hat than a Red Hat UI could ever be, because it's open source, because it's a commons.

Now it's true, there are opportunities here for people who run GNOME to take some meetings with firms who currently get more in benefits from its code base than they contribute. How can we help you help us, they might say. I suspect, though, that the answer is simply they have other priorities right now beyond a desktop Linux UI.

There's also an implication here that the long tail proves open source is a bogus concept. Since most contributors will only offer a snippet or two of code, and most users contribute nothing at all (even bug reports) the whole thing is a charade.

Again, no. And I don't know why Orlowski needs this explained to him again-and-again -- after 12 years he still doesn't get it?

So let me explain in terms I know from my Atlanta history.

There once was a man who was very rich, but he wanted his city to grow, because it would help his company grow and because he loved his city. So whenever the city needed something -- a park, an arts center -- he'd head up the fund-raising, and he'd cut the biggest check. While he was active it was all done anonymously, although he soon gained the nickname Mr. Anonymous.

Well the city grew, and it keeps growing today. And you know who the biggest beneficiary of that growth is, by far? It's the company Mr. Anonymous ran. The commons, in the end, did serve its biggest contributor best.

Have a Coke and a smile, Andrew.

Topic: Open Source

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: GNOME and the long tail of the commons

    It's still buying influence even if the public face is anonymous.
    • RE: GNOME and the long tail of the commons

      @aep528 Robert Woodruff an influence peddler? Well, Mayor Hartsfield was his best friend growing up. But there's a reason Atlanta became the capital of the south, and not Birmingham or Charlotte. Because an influence peddler supported the common good.
  • Red Hat contributions

    If I understand it correctly, would not most of the guys who work for Red Hat be _employed_ to be doing that?
    Tony T3
    • RE: GNOME and the long tail of the commons

      @Tony T3 Yes. It was a decision by Red Hat to support the commons through their employees.
  • Mr Orlowski, alas, seems to make a profession of

    not getting it, Dana. But thanks for your incisive analysis of the situation and the benefits of the commons - the <i>Reg</i>, unfortunately seems incapable of this type of analysis and in any event, not everyone follow the journal....

    • RE: GNOME and the long tail of the commons

      @mhenriday I hate neither The Register nor Mr. Orlowski. They tend to take a contrary position on everything, often in an amusing way. (Much of their writing reads as though it were written by Monty Python fans -- not that there's anything wrong with that.)
  • Yes, they would be employed...

    ... by those with deeper pockets, and doing work that makes their real job (supporting it) easier in the long-run, and more widely demanded.

    This isn't the first example. WordPerfect predates Linux. They never asked for proof of purchase. They helped everyone. And WP experts found they were in wide demand because of it. Mighty M$ couldn't stand the fact that no one wanted Word, and that WP was rapidly growing into an entire office suite, and, through 'coopetition' with Novell, would soon have a competing OS, complete with integrated, enterprise-level networking.

    So Bill and his rich, lawyer daddy pulled out all the stops in their effort to destroy WP in what may yet prove to have been a Pyrrhic victory. Certainly their proxy war (via SCO) against Linux has been necessarily subtler. And it may yet turn out that WP took the bullet that saved Linux.

    But Linux proponents should be ever mindful of the history and the example: If you don't want to live in a Windows world, keep the model. You may feel like you're giving away the store, but, whether you sell support outright, or work in a Linux shop, you'll be benefiting by being employed, and it'll be with and because of Linux rather than Windows and M$.
    • WordPerfect

      @Gaius_Maximus Haven't heard them mentioned in ages. My wife found my autographed copies of "Sayings of Chairman Morrow" today, from 1984. Good times.

      And if you kids don't know who Chairman Morrow was, ask your parents. <g>
  • 40% of long tail...

    Good points but the main argument in favour of the long tail is right there in the Census.

    More than 40% provided by "small" contributors. Even with all the money it would be difficult for any company to get the variety of points of view and ideas that the long tail can provide.

    Besides I live the principle of "It does not matter how much I contribute to FLOSS, It is an absolute truth that I get many times more back"