They make it possible for great changes to occur from the bottom up, organically, transparently. They enable collaboration across continents.
It has lately become fashionable to believe my spiel. The Obama election and the Iranian "Twitter" revolution seem to argue for its reality.
But the Industrial Revolution wasn't built in a day. The same is true for the Post-Industrial Revolution.
In business, I have learned, there is a price cheaper than free. The subsidies needed to move goods through the channel argue for proprietary models and strict protection of Intellectual Property.
The same is true for politics. The Obama campaign, in computing terms, was a much more top-down affair than the Dean campaign which preceded it. The Obama people bypassed the blogs just as they did media gatekeepers. The online environment they built, in the end, was proprietary.
It's the ability to harness trends which leads to success, not the trends themselves. This harnessing would seem to contradict the open source ideal. But does it?
Again, I would argue that it does not. Open source is an accelerant of change. The Internet is the rocket fuel of change. Harnessing that power, directing that rocket, these remain tasks for leadership.
The way in which leadership works changes in an open source world, but the need for it remains. Even after the open source revolution is complete we will need leaders in politics, in business, and entertainment.
The question becomes, as it was yesterday, how far are we along this path?
I tend to date such things from the standpoint of Moore's Law. Moore published his article in 1965. The integrated circuit is the steam engine of this revolution.
That revolution was sparked by James Watt (above, by Van Breda, from Wikipedia). Watt's revolution, like America's, is dated from 1776. This puts Moore's revolution, relative to that one, at about 1820 or so.
Since there is no Moore's Law of Training, I would say this revolution has a long, long way to go. And so do the changes deriving from it. So while we are evolving toward an open source society, we're no closer to it than Beau Brummel was to Henry Ford.
I find that comforting. Do you?