[ox-en] Manuel Castells on Open Source
- From: Stefan Merten <smerten oekonux.de>
- Date: Sat, 02 Jan 2010 19:40:48 +0100
The following is taken from
I removed a lot of less interesting stuff such as the history of Free
Software and Unix (yawn ;-) ) and a couple of examples from the Free
Software world. I also took the freedom to correct some obvious typos
and reformatted a bit.
I think Manuel is definitely in the right direction. In one place he
even talks of "the open source form of production" which is only a
small step to the "peer production as a new mode of production" as we
usually say in Oekonux.
I'd like to emphasize his insight of
I, and my collaborators, do the work, and are rewarded by our
creation. If others just consume it, this does not alter the joy of
my (and our creation) on the condition of having enough contributors
to have cool software.
There he definitely leaves the framework of abstract exchange and
comes close to what we call Selbstentfaltung in Oekonux.
He also thinks about "the generalization of open source to other
domains of activity" which mirrors the explicit move from Free
Software to peer production Oekonux made some years ago.
He also sees that this is not a political movement:
This is not about a community of angels or countercultural
activists. This is about a cooperative of technical programmers that
know this works better than proprietary software, and, in addition,
they enjoy the chance to innovate and to be appreciated and
recognized by their peers.
All in all I really appreciate this and it is very compatible with the
theoretical framework we build in Oekonux over the years.
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Presentation by Manuel Castells in the World Social Forum: open source
as social organization of production and as a form of technological
innovation based on a new conception of property rights.
Open source refers to a form of social organization of production that
originated in the development of computer sofware, and it is mainly
concerned with the open access to the knowledge of the source code of
a software program. A software code is a set of instructions for a
computer. The source code is a list of instructions that constitute
the fundamental formula for a software package. It is the DNA of a
software program. Most commercial software is released in machine
language, in binary language that machines can understand, but not
humans. The source code is the formula for this binary language, and
with the source code it is possible to understand the logic of the
program, and thus, anyone with the technical knowledge can modify it.
It is organized around a special notion of property. Most commercial
software, such as Microsoft´s, is based on the control of the property
rights of the source code. Software programs can be sold to the users,
and they have to accept what they receive because they cannot access
the logic of the program, so they cannot modify it, given the fact
that they are excluded from the knowledge of the source code.
Conventionally, in a capitalist economy, property is the right to
exclude others from the use of a good or service. In open source,
property is configured fundamentally around the right to distribute,
not to exclude. The source code for open source is published and
distributed for the use by anyone who wishes. And because the source
code is known, users can modify it, and can modify or generate new
applications. Free source code is open, public, and non proprietary.
This new form of property, that is entirely contradictory with the
usual regime of intellectual property rights, is supported by a
governance system that holds together a community of producers. It is
based on human motivation to work within this logic and is supported
by an evolving set of organizational structures to coordinate
Open Source is not necessarily anti-capìtalist. There are many
capitalist firms, including very large corporate firms that practice
open source. But it is a-capitalist, meaning that Open Source is
compatible with different social logics and values. It does not need
the incentive of profit to work, and does not rely on the private
appropriation of the exclusive right to use and enjoy the product. It
is based on a form of social organization that has profound political
implications and may affect the way we think about the need to
preserve capitalist institutions and hierarchies of production to
manage the requirements of a complex world.
The context of open source
The context that surrounds the development of open source, as a social
phenomenon, a political phenomenon, and an economic phenomenon
includes at least four major features:
1) The Internet transforms the nature of the process of work,
enhancing interactivity and distribution. Network organization
becomes effective, particularly with increased telecommunications
bandwidth. In the open source form of production as important as
the code itself is the process by which it is built.
2) Open source expresses the development of new relationships between
community, culture, and commercial activity. The open source
community is based on a set of rules and shared values. In
addition, from this cultural autonomy the community relates to the
rules of the capitalist organization that characterizes the broader
context. In fact, as in the history of industrial organization,
ideas create institutions, that set up production processes. Thus,
the ideas behind open source are at the roots of a new logic of
3) Open source exposes the new logic of organization of production in a
knowledge intensive economic process. The development of software
is made up of digitally encoded knowledge that combines from the
bottom up in the process of production. Furthermore, as mentioned
above, open source is an experiment in production built around a
distinctive notion of property. The traditional notion of property
is based on the right to exclude the non owners from the use of
something that is owned by someone. On the other hand, open source
property is configured around the right to distribute, not the
right to exclude. This is in fact in the tradition of "fair use" of
intellectual products that are used without securing their
property. Under an extended notion of fair use, no individual´s
fair use will be permitted to constrain subsequent fair use by
another individual and for any purpose. (On "fair use", and the
transformation of the notion of intellectual property rights see
the definitive analysis by Lawrence Lessig "Free Culture2, 2004)
4) Open source is a broad social phenomenon, not limited to the field
of software, but applicable to the production and distribution of
knowledge in a variety of domains.
History of the Open Source Movement/Practice
From free software to open source
How open source works
Open source is a knowledge production process undertaken by a
community that has harnessed the communicative and collaborative power
of the Internet.
Open source raises four challenges in contrast with the usual form of
organization of production in a capitalist economy:
a) The motivation of the individuals. Why skillful programmers
contribute their time and effort without compensation?
b) What is the economic logic that departs from conventional market
c) Coordination. How hundreds of individuals cooperate freely in a
project without a central hierarchy that organizes the division of
labor. How coordination is implemented outside market mechanisms of
hierarchical decision making?
d) Management of complexity. The development of software is a highly
complex endeavor tha is not solved simply by adding manpower. In
fact, the classic study by Frederick Brooks shows that increasing
the number of programmers increases the problems in succesfully
completing the program. This is because with an increased number of
programmers, the work that gets done scales linearly, while
complexity of the process and vulnerability to mistakes scales
geometrically. Under such conditions, the question is: what is the
procedure of governance that enables the community of programmers to
achieve the quality of the expected program in such a complex
process of work?
Let us take these questions in sequence.
Individual Motivations We have some surveys on the motivations of
Linux developers, although certainly not statistically representative
of the community. The picture that emerges is that the typical Linux
developer is a person who feels part of a technical community, who
wants to improve his programming skills, to benefit from better
software, and wants to have fun. He does not care about money rewards.
In fact, he cares more about the time he has to spend in task. Main
motivations are: individual learning, work efficiency, and having fun.
In a 2001 survey conducted by Boston Consulting Group, the responses
From Linux developers allowed to typologize them in four groups:
i. The believers. Motivated by their conviction that software should
be open (1/3 of respondents).
ii. The professionals, who use open source because helps them in their
jobs (1/5 of respondents)
iii. Fun-seekers, who do it for intellectual stimulation (1/4)
iv. Skill-enhancers, for whom open source allows them to become better
In addition, most observers, including the path breaking book by Eric
Raymond, insist on the importance of reputation among the peers of the
community in motivating the programmers. This is not too different
From the scholarly community. To be recognized by the peers that you
respect is one of the highest rewards. Also, an important motivating
factor is the belief in the benefits of the community, in the goodness
of cooperation. The belief is that the community empowers the
individual to help himself. It is a sort of communal individualism.
And last, but not least, the belief in innovation and experimentation
as the highest, most valued form of human behavior.
The economic logic of a collective good
Eric Raymond likens open source to the gift economy of some societies.
Gifts are source of prestige, status, and self-esteem. This is one
part of the economic logic behind Open Source. But there is an
additional economic logic. Open source software is a nonexcludable
good because no one is prevented from consuming it. It is also
entirely nonrival in the sense that any number of users can download
it and use it. So, this is essentially a public good. All public goods
are submitted to the danger of the free rider attitude, as theorized
by Mancur Olson. This means that there are people (free-riders) who
can take advantage of the common good and do not contribute to it. It
is like eating from the common pot in which you do not put anything.
So, if a high proportion of people take this attitude there is nothing
in the pot. However, if you feel compensated by the act of creation,
even if other people take advantage of it, as long as there are enough
contributors, you do not care about parasites, because in the Internet
world, the marginal utility of an additional copy of a software
program to me is zero. I, and my collaborators, do the work, and are
rewarded by our creation. If others just consume it, this does not
alter the joy of my (and our creation) on the condition of having
enough contributors to have cool software. Rather than a non-rival
good Open Source software is an anti-rival good, a network good, that
creates value out of networked cooperation.
The method of coordination
The key in the process of cooperation is freedom to join and freedom
to quit. Indeed, the right to forking is openly recognized in any open
source community. Forking means that at one point, anyone may decide
that he does not agree with the decisions taken about the code, and
starts a different programming line that, ultimately, becomes
incompatible with the software that is being developed in the
community. Linux has been close to forking in some instances. Forking
is damaging to the community because it disperses efforts and
resources. But it is essential for participants to know that they can
always propose their own alternative, if they reach a crisis point.
But, how coordination is achieved?
First of all, because of cultural norms in the community. This is made
concrete in the right of ownership to the code, meaning the right to
distribute modified versions of software. Ownership of this kind is
acquired by initiating the program, (the founder), by receiving
explicitly the ownership from the original founder, and by picking up
a project that seems to be abandoned.
Second, decision making mechanisms imply a certain form of accepted
hierarchy, with the founder, his recognized lieutenants for certain
lines of development of the project, a core of maintainers of the
program, and a broader group of credited developers (publicly credited
in the mailing list of the project). This hierarchy develops largely
spontaneously and it is essentially founded on the recognition of the
technical capacity of the cooperators. So, at the heart of open source
there is a matter of technical rationality. However, the ability to
keep the community growing and cooperating it is also related to the
leadership. The leader of a project must be charismatic and respected.
But, at the same time, he must respect all the contributors, and
accept criticism, both technical and personal. The exchanges in the
community can be very harsh, but ultimately it comes down to respect
the right of everyone - or else, forking. The important matter in
exercising leadership is that all communications are public, so that
the community can always make its own opinion. The most important
contribution of Linus Torvalds was not his original kernel, but his
ability to build a community of cooperation over the Internet. The
main crisis for Linux was when in 1996, Linus moved to Silicon Valley,
to work on Transmeta, and at the same time, was taking care of his
daughters. He became overwhelmed with responsibility and could not
answer all the requests of the community. The criticism became that
Linus (not Linux) does not scale... The leadership response, after
some bitter exchanges, was to decentralize decision making on some
parts of the code, although retaining final word on technical
controversies, to preserve the unity of Linux, and its cumulative
development. So, leadership combines benevolent dictatorship with
decentralized decision making and with embedded interest in
cooperation from the whole community as the only way to achieve the
goals in writing good software. There are egos certainly involved in
the process, and this is normal, and accepted. What is not accepted is
to use a power position for personal benefit, meaning appropriating
others´work and not release or contribute. If some people make money
on the side, or publish, or whatever, it is OK, on the condition of
not keeping for themselves any information or innovation that is
collectively produced by the community. This is not about a community
of angels or countercultural activists. This is about a cooperative of
technical programmers that know this works better than proprietary
software, and, in addition, they enjoy the chance to innovate and to
be appreciated and recognized by their peers.
The management of complexity of software development
Software is a very complex product. The Red Hat version of Linux 7.1
(which includes some applications) has over 30 million lines of code.
In formal organizations, the process of production for such a gigantic
task would imply a very complicated division of labor with huge
numbers of programmers to be coordinated, inducing massive problems of
efficiency (remember Brooks´analysis). This is in fact the case in
Microsoft, and this is why Microsoft´s software is full of bugs and
mistakes (the blue screen of doom, as the free programmers say).
The key to reduce the problems posed by complexity is modularization,
meaning to differentiate the task by subsets of problems to be solved
while keeping the compatibility of the software. But it is difficult
to plan in advance who should do what since this is a process of
innovation. It is through trial and error that the program advances.
Open source cooperation over the Internet makes transparent the
progress of the program and the lines of development adopted by the
subsets of the community concentrating on some of the modules. Indeed,
each group of the community has the responsibility assignment of
solving a problem, rather than executing a preplanned task.
Management of cooperation
The way to ensure discipline cooperation is through the sanctioning
process of public blame (or flaming) against members of the community
that do not abide by the implicit and explicity norms and rules. But,
something else is needed beyond a certain level of complexity: a
formal governance structure for large scale projects. This varies with
Open source as cooperative organization of production
Open source is a way of organizing production, challenging traditional
forms of division of labor, organizational hierarchy, and conventional
property rights. A number of analyses propose the possibility of
extending this form of organization to many other areas beyond
software, on the basis of the principles that characterize the open
* User-driven innovation that takes place in a parallel distributed
* Cooperative behavior regulated by cultural norms and governance
* The economic logic of non excludable, anti-rival goods, and network
externalities and synergies.
A redefinition of the notion of property rights. Property rights in
open source are built on the right to distribute, not to exclude.
Remember that property is a socially constructed notion. The
experience of intellectual property rights in the music distributed
over the Internet is an important illustration of this new principle,
and also of its contradictions. The Internet allows and enhances this
new system of cooperation, while creating serious difficulties for the
enforcement of traditional property rights.
The generalization of open source to other domains of activity, is
production Oekonux made some years agobased on the implementation of
production Oekonux made some years agofour principles:
a) Empower people to experiment, and provide them with the appropriate
technology, and the required social incentives
b) Find an engineering solution for bits of information to find each
c) Structure information so it can recombine with other pieces of
d) Create a governance system that sustains the process (the GPL logic
is an example of institutionalization of new property rights)
Open Source, technology, and world development