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Re: [ox] Meeting at WOS - some thoughts and comments

On Tue, 3 Aug 1999, Bettina Berendt wrote:

Hello again,

in addition to the protocol, Holger and I also noted some thoughts and

[snipped from the previous mail]
here it is ... finally ... the protocol of our "inaugurating" meeting.
First, my attempt at summarising the issues raised in the discussion,
second, Holger's transcript of much of the discussion.

My apologies for this mail being rather late, and also for a 
not-very-pretty layout. "My job is eating me", to brutally translate
a German complaint.

Thanks a lot to you for doing the protocol which surely has been a lot of
evasive work :) 

As it has become as elaborate as we face it, its not easy for me to
extract the point that seem to be relevant to me.... Nevertheless, I want
to comment on some of that stuff, but rather in reference to your own

I still agree on ideas like the 'currency of comments' and 'economy of
attention'. To my experience, having other people evaluate what you have
done through intrinsic(!) motivation (in opposite to the often felt
extrinsic motivation your job yields - MONEY) can be a pleasure and meets
a human's need for social and friendly acceptance and communication (at
least that's part of my view of humanity :). Not being an economist
either, I acctually would no come acrosse the idea of calling this
'economic', but I can clearly see the point in that. I would rather tend
to describe this 'exchange' in terms of emotional, social, and
psychological categories, but anyway...

(Which seems to resemble the argument of Stephan and Rishad about the
definition of love being 'economic' or not...) 

And althought public attention is what happens only to some, prominent or
leading members of the community (which again is a term which to me
implies the above 'psycho-social, emotional exchanges') like Torvalds,
Raymond, or Stallman, it definetely happens within the communities' social
areas (read: the Web, Usenet, mailing lists) on a daily basis to many of
the more average free/open source software people.

The Street Performer Protocol (as far as I can remember and claim having a
basic understanding on it... I didnt read the article yet, but I promise
to do... :) seems to be a model of how free/open source developers can
make (at least partially) a living from free and open source software.

Still, this resembles very much the common Shareware model which has been
proven not to work for most developers, as they simply dont get anything
from their program's users..... Did I get anything wrong, hopefully? (And
is this topic too pragmatic for our discussion and simply missing the
point, because this point is all about intergrating free and open source
developing strategies into some capitalistic economies, where it should
be our major goal to find out about the anti-capitalist(ic?) capabilities
of that movement - if there are any? (I ask this question mainly because I
have brought up this issue here last week, and have been told to basically
miss the point absolutely.... Am I? I am serious, not trying to be
aggressive or so, really :) I just don't know and would like to have more
people commenting on that... :)

To add one thing to the effort of approaching free/open source developer's
motivation: As someone developing programs for a living, I often really
feel it very much satisfying to work at something which is in my eyes both
more useful and more challenging compared to what I do during work... This
corresponds which what I said before about intrinsic motivation and 'pays
back' in self esteem and pure satisfaction about a piece of work... And
hence this seems not be of 'ecoomic' value, I tend to become very much off
topic... :)

Comments on your comments and your nice protocol :) :

"Value flow as a superset of exchange" (Ghosh) -> so what value flows?

AFAIK, Rashid mentioned that according to the cooking pot model value
keeps flowing from and to the cooking pot (which represents some rather
anonymous group or community of free/open software people) to which you
belong as well, if you choose to. The main difference to 'ordinary vlaue
flow' may be that this usually happens between individuals or entities
who/which you know, can tell from other people and entities and are not
anonoymous - you know from whom and to whom value flows... (No clue if
this it true in terms of economic theory...)
[commented on that part before: currency of comments and economy of

Open Source and Advertisement
- - -----------------------------
- - - Medosch, Ghosh report that texts/articles published as "Open
Source" in the
  Internet brings money to the author in a number of ways:
  - publishers' attention is raised; they ask for further texts to be
    published in "ordinary" ways (e.g., as a book which they publish)

This is linked to public attention some of the 'movement's heroes' get,
like rsm, esr, or Linus Torvalds and Alan Cox, who surely can make a
living based on their popularity (unless you are considered politically
extremist, or prove to be in a way, as rms does...).

Though this already happens, it is neither a solution for the majority of
free/open source developers, as public attention is scarce, nor can it be
a motivation such a developer - its too unlikely and again extrinsic.
Moreover, I expect this to be very much disagreed in this list. ;)

  - publishers re-publish texts, e.g., on mailing lists, and 
    pay the author for the
    right to re-publish. The publishers recover
    these costs by subscription fees from the readers. The value added (which
    the end-readers pay for) is the service of filtering relevant information
    from the Internet.

This seems to be linked very much to the publishing area ('publishing' as
in 'journal', not 'source code') and implies too many copyright stuff i
dont know too much about... :( 

[*Afterthought*: Q: What is the current situation with software copyrights?
Can someone be taken to court because of infringement of a GPL licence?
- - Holger Blasum thinks there are actually some precedents, but cannot 
quote them. -
And who is going to pay the lawyer? ...]

There has been at least one incident where GNU licensed software has been
discovered in commercial - and generally disclosed - software... I might
find some reports or bookmarks on that incident, I remeber to be it on a year ago or so.... I will try to find out, if you are
interested in that case example...
Transaction costs
- - -----------------
- - - In contrast to the Fordian model, distributing software has very low
  transaction costs.
[? I found that in my notes, but I am not so sure any more that I got this
right. As far as I remember, production costs per item also fall in the
"standard" Economic models. I think the remark referred to Ghosh's emphasis
on the near-zero distribution costs of *every* copy, which does indeed make
a difference to the Fordian model.

This seemed to be one of his major points... Indeed this describes a big
difference between traditional goods and software... But unfortunately,
this seems to be more of theoretical interest and I tend to consider this
what we call in German a 'Binsenweisheit'... Should I take some classes on
economics...? :-\
- - - The programmer cannot recover the cost of the first item;
  selling the last item would have higher transaction costs 
  than the selling price.
[? Again, I am not too sure how to integrate this remark.
Anyway, it seemed
interesting enough to include it in this protocol. ?]

Didnt Rashid mention that the cost for a copy of, say Microsoft Word, is
totally made up and not in any way related to the production costs, but to
what Microsoft considers it to be.... Which is tightly linked to the fact
that software copies are producable almost for free, once the software has
been written...

Street performer protocol (Ghosh)
- - --------------------------------
- - - But protocols need to be established to remunerate the street performers,
  those outside the star system. Maybe buttons on the pages "Click here
  to send me a digital dollar"?! 
[*Afterthought*: An example for this could be Stefan Münz's excellent
   SELFHTML teach-yourself-HTML manual. This is available
  free online, but also comes as a book, and the author encourages donations
  to a particular bank account. ( However,
  I don't know how much money he has already made with this system.]

Rather the Shareware principle.... Would be interesting how much Shareware
authors really make with their software... IIRC, they make near to

The 'One-dollar-click' idea came from Stallman, IIRC. And he very much
insisted on having an appropriate infra structure (the 'dollar-clickable'
web interface) which makes it as easy to pay a dollar for a piece of
software (or whatever) as it is with paying street performing artists...
Drop it to them as you go buy.... You dont have to sign a bank order to
pay a nice street performing artist, and I guess that they would get much
less for their art if they pass out bank order forms instead of passing a
hat... Which might be the big big problem with shareware as we know it...
Open Source software as a byproduct of commercial activities
- - ------------------------------------------------------------
This seemed to be one of the results of the discussion:
Many software writers release pieces of software as Open Source which they
developed in the course of developing a customised product, and which is
likely to be useful as a tool outside the context of this customised,
sold product. In development, they also use a lot of Open Source (and free)
They make their living as independent programmers, working
in a company, or as a consultant. Companies realise that if every single
utilised tool was to be paid, the costs would be astronomical.

How does this apply to a merely rational motivation (meaning a motivation
which only wants the best for me for the lowest costs)?

I think that releasing some commercially produced software for free needs
one of the following motivations:

* Being a hardcore free software (rather than open source software)
  advocat who thinks that he/she owes something to the community, if
  not to the whole world :)

* Releasing it so that others carry on the work, but in a open source way
  so that the former owner can still profit from it, without having to
  pay the further developement... (Didnt Rashid mention this printing
  system which was handled this way? And SGI might do something
  similar right now with rumourely giving up IRIX... This will only be
  done with rather marginal or administrational software tools, not with
  major products, I think [which IRIX isnt..])

* Releasing it without a clue why, except for marketing reasons...

- - - But: free riders may still be a danger, cf.
    "The person who makes the most money out of OS is Bill Gates."
   (because he uses the growth of the Internet) [Tim O'Reilly]

So what...? >:)

The future of Open Source

Problems of a growing community
- - -------------------------------
- - - The Open Source system worked with small, closely knit
    groups. There may
    be many problems ahead as the community is growing (cf. also Jeannette
  Hoffmann's talk on Open Standards and their development).
  The differences between the workings of small, closely knit groups and
  large, only loosely coupled groups are well-known in Economics. Peer pressure
  etc. are much stronger in small groups, and the free rider problem
  becomes more severe with the size of the group.

I think the models are more complex... Receiving mailing list messages
from, say the linux kernel list, increases one's traffic a lot, as there
are hundres of mails coming in daily. This does not seem to be a 'small
group'... To my experience, some kind of core group evolves even from
explicitly anarchi(sti)c groups, which may be considered as small... But
there are lotsa people contributing (through communication, programming,
bug reports and fixes, ideas etc.) who consider themselves of part of the
thing... Tho they might realise they are not coregroupy... I think Rashid
said so and explained that phaenomena at some mailing list example.. (?)
Err... I think i am getting redundant know and tend to get off topic or
so, due to my tiredness |O

Anyway.... Hope you are not getting too bored, and excuse my expressions 
from time to time... :)

Oliver Hillmann, Berlin (Germany) <ohil>

[English translation]
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