How to explain FOSS to normal people, or: What does mountain bikes, rap music, and FOSS have in common?

Amazing talk: Charles Leadbeater: The rise of the amateur professional

These are my favorite quotes:

  • How do we organize ourselves without organizations? … You don’t need an organization to be organized.
  • One of the reasons [this view] is wrong, is that the ideas are flowing back up the pipeline. The ideas are coming back from the consumers, and they’re often ahead of the producers.
  • Big corporations have an in-built tendency to reinforce past success. They’ve got so much sunk in it, that it’s very difficult for them to spot new markets. Emerging new markets then, are the breeding grounds for passionate users.
  • What we are seeing is a complete corruption of the ideal of patents and copyrights; meant to be a way to incentivize innovation, meant to be a way orchestrate the dissemination of knowledge. They are increasingly being used by large companies to create thickets of patents to prevent innovation taking place.
  • The reason why despite all the efforts to cut it down, to constrain it, to hold it back… why these open models will still start emerging with tremendous force, is that they multiply our productive resources, and one of the reasons they do that is that they turn users into producers, consumers into designers.
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5 thoughts on “How to explain FOSS to normal people, or: What does mountain bikes, rap music, and FOSS have in common?

  1. I am sad that this didn’t get pushed higher on maemo.org; this really feels like the tension that I see going on between the community and Nokia…

  2. No wait that didn’t sound right… I made it sound like Nokia’s against the community here, when it is not the case at all…

    Nokia is actually on the cutting edge, supporting the pro-am community by funding maemo.org and making a new and wonderful thing in the process… but there’s a real tension visible as they try to work out this new model. Lots of push-back when there are attempts to organise from the top down. Lots of flames and gripes as the “leadership” tries to impose some structure and organisation on the former anarchy.

    Very interesting to watch this new model go through its growing pains. I just wish I wasn’t getting stretched in all directions right in the middle of it all…

  3. @qole thank you.

    Yes, this apply to open source in general, but the last part fits perfectly within Nokia. There’s a struggle between the old and the new model, and it’s impressive how Nokia being so huge company has made so much progress in the open source arena really changing their model by betting on Maemo, but still there’s a long way to go.

  4. Interesting how Leadbeater’s talk continues to make me think, more than a week later.

    You know what is really bugging me? All this talk about the contributions of the pro-am community member towards technological innovation… and what do I start thinking about? Where are those first guys who hacked together their own mountain bikes and started the multi-billion dollar industry? I seriously doubt they’re drinking mai-tais on their private yachts.

    They’re the creative, intelligent people who started a huge industry, and they’re probably no richer and no more famous for doing it.

    I think the takeaway lesson from the mountain bike story is:

    If you get a really neat idea, and it isn’t too hard to do, do it for yourself and have fun. If it is too much work, or the work isn’t very fun, wait for someone else to implement it. Probably best not to share your idea with the “community”, unless you’ve hired a lawyer and made sure you’ve protected your IP. If your ideas are good, some business savvy guy will come along and make some serious money from your idea and probably won’t even acknowledge that you had anything to do with it.

    What is the pro-am innovator to do? What if you have some good ideas, and you want someone to pay you a bit of money for them? Thirty years ago, you could get a job in the R&D department of a big company, or work for a university. Back in the Dot Com Bubble, you could start your own company around a good technology idea and wait for some big company to buy you out. And now?

    If you don’t mind watching other people benefit from your work, by all means, innovate in a community setting. I hope you can be proud when you see your work being used in other projects, even if no benefits from this ever come back to you.

    I hope the builders of the original mountain bikes can take comfort knowing that their designs made a few people rich, and gave a lot of other people jobs.

  5. @qole Well, money is not the ultimate goal for some people. Many people do the things they do for passion, not for money.

    Also, I don’t think it’s possible to get a big advantage in such big movements. People make big money not because of their passion, but because of their money-making abilities. So in that sense I don’t think there’s any stealing, it’s just different people scratching their own itches.

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