GNOME and the long tail of the 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.

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.