I first came in contact with open-source communities when developing modifications (mods) for the popular Bethesda Softworks gaming title The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. While the game itself is proprietary, Bethesda released a number of tools that made it possible for players to enrich the game and freely share their creations. Producing various pieces of in-game apparel I quickly began to understand how a good community should function. The basics were rather simple – sharing and caring.
To me everything was simply a matter of socialist economics, applied on a very small scale. Let us consider a trivial example.
- We have 10 craftsmen, each specializing in a different craft.
- Each produces specific goods, but thanks to accepted distribution channels (the Internet), he/she can freely share them among all the other craftsmen.
- As a result, each craftsman profits 10-fold by contributing with his/her own work and in return gaining access to products outside his/her area of expertise (SHARING).
- In addition, having varying perspectives, each craftsman may suggest others how to improve the quality of their products (CARING).
Now, if we increase the size of the craftsmen population, gains increase exponentially. Alas, the human being is an imperfect one and at some point problems may arise.
- New members of the community might be more interested in taking, rather than giving, contributing nothing in return.
- Someone might find a means of personal profit and sell the community-shared goods as his/her own.
- Out of ill-intent someone may sabotage the joint efforts of the community.
Fortunately, such ‘rotten apples’ are usually over-shadowed by the good deeds of the community and, despite being loud, quickly forgotten.
The gist of it all is that an open-source community will produce things much more efficiently than a company. The flow of information and ideas is less restricted and the community can function as a single, well coordinated entity. The only boundaries are defined by common goals.