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Open Source Innovation

October 23rd, 2003 · No Comments

[via Atanu] Wired writes on the larger impact of open source, which “is doing for mass innovation what the assembly line did for mass production. Get ready for the era when collaboration replaces the corporation.”

Open source software transcends Linux. Altogether, more than 65,000 collaborative software projects click along at Sourceforge.net, a clearinghouse for the open source community. The success of Linux alone has stunned the business world.

But software is just the beginning. Open source has spread to other disciplines, from the hard sciences to the liberal arts. Biologists have embraced open source methods in genomics and informatics, building massive databases to genetically sequence E. coli, yeast, and other workhorses of lab research. NASA has adopted open source principles as part of its Mars mission, calling on volunteer “clickworkers” to identify millions of craters and help draw a map of the Red Planet. There is open source publishing: With Bruce Perens, who helped define open source software in the ’90s, Prentice Hall is publishing a series of computer books open to any use, modification, or redistribution, with readers’ improvements considered for succeeding editions. There are library efforts like Project Gutenberg, which has already digitized more than 6,000 books, with hundreds of volunteers typing in, page by page, classics from Shakespeare to Stendhal; at the same time, a related project, Distributed Proofreading, deploys legions of copy editors to make sure the Gutenberg texts are correct. There are open source projects in law and religion. There’s even an open source cookbook.

While the assembly line accelerated the pace of production, it also embedded workers more deeply into the corporate manufacturing machine. Indeed, that was the big innovation of the 20th-century factory: The machines, rather than the workers, drove production. With open source, the people are back in charge. Through distributed collaboration, a multitude of workers can tackle a problem, all at once. The speed is even greater – but so is the freedom. It’s a cottage industry on Internet time.

Just as the assembly line served the manufacturing economy, open source serves a knowledge-based economy. Facilitating intellectual collaboration is open source’s great advantage, but it also makes the method a threat. It’s a direct challenge to old-school R&D: a closed system, where innovations are quickly patented and tightly guarded. And it’s an explicit reaction to the intellectual property industry, that machine of proprietary creation and idea appropriation that grew up during the past century and out of control in the past 30 years – now often impeding the same efforts it was designed to protect.

The article talks about the ideals of open source: share the goal, share the work, and share the result.

Tags: Software

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