Open Source Beyond Software

Mitch Kapor writes:

Open source heralds a global paradigm shift in social and economic value creation of enormous proportions, the extent of which is almost completely unappreciated. If I am right, then we are in for interesting times as the irresistible force of open source meets the immoveable object of corporate entrenchment. There will be enormous economic dislocations with opportunities for new undertakings and threats to the established order. Mental categories we take so much for granted we don’t even know we have them will become obsolete.

Open source is a form of decentralized production in which an information commons is cooperatively built, maintained, and evolved. This commons forms the primary (but not exclusive) basis of value from which individuals and firms draw and to which they contribute.

The centrality of the commons in an open source paradigm contrasts with private ownership of assets in the existing one, and the dynamic of use and fostering of the commons stands in sharp contrast to the dynamic of market-based competition.

When information such as genomic data is put in the public domain, it may be freely used, but that by itself does nothing to foster a dynamic of further contribution, e.g., more data, refinements of the data, tools for analyzing and manipulating the data, etc. Open source projects have dynamics of active contribution and community participation over time as a distinguishing characteristic. Sometimes these are enforced by the software licenses employed by the project, the Free Software of GPL license which compels users who create derivatives to contribute them in their entirety to the commons, but this is not necessary as many projects do not rely on compulsion to support community contribution. I am ignorant of current practice, but I would look at information sharing going on in biomedical research as to whether there is an active community-based dynamic going on or not, and if not, whether there could be.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.