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We typically reduce all of economics to supply and demand, but it could be equally well formulated in terms of cost and benefit. Every system of production, whether it is a company, a market, or an open source community, has its costs. On one end of this spectrum, firms work because they can balance relatively lower costs of command-and-control structures relative to a higher cost market. On the other end, commons-based peer production such as open source projects can have lower costs than either firms or markets in a networked environment, where communication of participants and distribution of goods are far lower than we experienced in the industrial economy that those of us who are voting age and older experienced for most of our lives. It isn’t intuitive to us because we’re not used to having to live and work in space, having spent most of our lives on the ground. I’m here to tell you that the laws of physics still apply. It’s just our intuitions about them that need to be adjusted.


1. gavin baker - october 31st, 2007 at 12:30 pm

This is my favorite post of the series. Thanks, Michael, for an accessible introduction that makes me want to dig even deeper into Coase and Benkler.

I’m a bit disappointed in the conclusion, though. I had my hopes up for a smoking-gun ending: a prescription for higher ed on the basis of what we know about commons-based peer production.

I’ve read plenty of such prescriptions (and dashed off “Rx” a few times myself), but they inevitably seem to fail to connect the dots. I was struck by the question “Open source works in practice, but does it work in theory?” It may sound academic, but it’s actually quite practical. To fully leverage these forces, we need a complete cycle from practice to theory to practice. There are plenty of practitioners, and there’s good theory (albeit not widely-enough understood), but the chain frequently fails when attempting to extract practical knowledge — well-formed prescriptions — from the theory.

Most of the attempts to do so boil down to something like “universities should support FOSS because it’s the right thing to do”. Perhaps ironically, it seems that many of academia’s FOSS practitioners purposefully ignore theory, reducing the motivation to use or produce FOSS to “it seemed like a good idea (it might save money, etc.” or some sort of imitation. As Gary Schwartz wrote in his post for the series: “Whereas many university people enjoy a spiritual affinity for open source software, our interest is more pragmatic.” To stereotype, one group’s motivation is religious, with no concern for practicality; another group’s motivation is just to get through the fiscal year without going over budget, with no concern for bleeding-heart causes. We’ve got theory that explains and reconciles the forces — but nobody’s applying it.

To stick with the space metaphor: If someone was designing a rocket, no engineer would mimic previous designs “because it’s the right thing to do”. Similarly, no engineer would mimic previous designs “because it seems to work”. We would expect the practitioners to apply a theoretical foundation. If the president walked in to NASA and demanded, “Explain why this will work,” there’d better be a solid explanation — and I’d expect the aerospace engineers to be able to deliver it. But if the president went to NASA’s software engineers and asked the same question about their open source projects, I doubt sincerely they could give a complete, succinct, coherent, convincing explanation. (Not to pick on NASA.) It really seems like the practice of FOSS isn’t theory, applied — it’s guesswork or beliefs . That’s not because the theory isn’t there (as this post expertly demonstrates); it’s because the theory isn’t being applied. How do we change that?

Questions & Answers

do you think it's worthwhile in the long term to study the effects and possibilities of nanotechnology on viral treatment?
Damian Reply
absolutely yes
how to know photocatalytic properties of tio2 nanoparticles...what to do now
Akash Reply
it is a goid question and i want to know the answer as well
characteristics of micro business
Do somebody tell me a best nano engineering book for beginners?
s. Reply
what is fullerene does it is used to make bukky balls
Devang Reply
are you nano engineer ?
fullerene is a bucky ball aka Carbon 60 molecule. It was name by the architect Fuller. He design the geodesic dome. it resembles a soccer ball.
what is the actual application of fullerenes nowadays?
That is a great question Damian. best way to answer that question is to Google it. there are hundreds of applications for buck minister fullerenes, from medical to aerospace. you can also find plenty of research papers that will give you great detail on the potential applications of fullerenes.
what is the Synthesis, properties,and applications of carbon nano chemistry
Abhijith Reply
Mostly, they use nano carbon for electronics and for materials to be strengthened.
is Bucky paper clear?
so some one know about replacing silicon atom with phosphorous in semiconductors device?
s. Reply
Yeah, it is a pain to say the least. You basically have to heat the substarte up to around 1000 degrees celcius then pass phosphene gas over top of it, which is explosive and toxic by the way, under very low pressure.
Do you know which machine is used to that process?
how to fabricate graphene ink ?
for screen printed electrodes ?
What is lattice structure?
s. Reply
of graphene you mean?
or in general
in general
Graphene has a hexagonal structure
On having this app for quite a bit time, Haven't realised there's a chat room in it.
what is biological synthesis of nanoparticles
Sanket Reply
what's the easiest and fastest way to the synthesize AgNP?
Damian Reply
types of nano material
abeetha Reply
I start with an easy one. carbon nanotubes woven into a long filament like a string
many many of nanotubes
what is the k.e before it land
what is the function of carbon nanotubes?
I'm interested in nanotube
what is nanomaterials​ and their applications of sensors.
Ramkumar Reply
what is nano technology
Sravani Reply
what is system testing?
preparation of nanomaterial
Victor Reply
Yes, Nanotechnology has a very fast field of applications and their is always something new to do with it...
Himanshu Reply
good afternoon madam
what is system testing
what is the application of nanotechnology?
In this morden time nanotechnology used in many field . 1-Electronics-manufacturad IC ,RAM,MRAM,solar panel etc 2-Helth and Medical-Nanomedicine,Drug Dilivery for cancer treatment etc 3- Atomobile -MEMS, Coating on car etc. and may other field for details you can check at Google
anybody can imagine what will be happen after 100 years from now in nano tech world
after 100 year this will be not nanotechnology maybe this technology name will be change . maybe aftet 100 year . we work on electron lable practically about its properties and behaviour by the different instruments
name doesn't matter , whatever it will be change... I'm taking about effect on circumstances of the microscopic world
how hard could it be to apply nanotechnology against viral infections such HIV or Ebola?
silver nanoparticles could handle the job?
not now but maybe in future only AgNP maybe any other nanomaterials
I'm interested in Nanotube
this technology will not going on for the long time , so I'm thinking about femtotechnology 10^-15
how did you get the value of 2000N.What calculations are needed to arrive at it
Smarajit Reply
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Source:  OpenStax, The impact of open source software on education. OpenStax CNX. Mar 30, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10431/1.7
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