The revolution of open source culture and peer production models

A synthesis and some videos discussing how open source culture and peer production models are now about to bring innovating and disruptive changes to the physical world.

Massimo Banzi: How Arduino is open-sourcing imagination

Massimo Banzi helped invent the Arduino, a tiny, easy-to-use open-source microcontroller that’s inspired thousands of people around the world to make the coolest things they can imagine — from art installations, automatic plant waterer, or toys to satellite gear. Because, as he says, “You don’t need anyone’s permission to make something great.”

Here’s an incredibly exciting TED talk video from Massimo Banzi: How Arduino is open-sourcing imagination (16 minutes)

How did open source came to influence the hardware and physical world ? Let’s look at some open source projects to understand the history of open source movement.

Linux : the biggest open source software ecosystem

Over 20 year ago, a student reuse an existing piece of code, make improvements and publish it online for everyone to see and reuse.

Today Linux is a widely used operating system, running on a highly diverse range of devices ranging from mobile phones to supercomputers. Linux distributions are the cornerstone of the LAMP server-software combination which is one of the more common platforms for website hosting.

The Linux ecosystem is a billion dollar industry, competing with some of the most powerful corporations like Microsoft. Other big companies like IBM are even paying employees to participate full time in the development of Linux and many governments are taking steps to use Linux solutions.

Wikipedia: the peer-produced encyclopedia

Over 10 years ago, a phylantropic entrepreneur publish online a few encyclopedic articles he had produced expensively by paying experts to write.

After ditching the experts-based production model and opening the editing process to everyone, he attracted a vibrant and diverse community of passionate volunteers and got massive content submissions.

Today with over 22 millions articles (4 millions article in english, 1.4 millions in german, 1.2 millions in french, and hundred of thousands in other languages) and editions  available in 285 languages, Wikipedia has become the largest and most popular general reference work on the Internet, ranking sixth globally among all websites, with an estimated 365 million readers worldwide.

With no help from any governements (the software used to publish the content has been produced by volunteers developers and the money needed to run the servers comes from donations.), and with quality competing with encyclopedia produced by established powerful companies (Microsoft has closed its service Encarta, and Encyclopedia Britannica stopped printing its famous encyclopedia), Wikipedia has made free knowledge accessible to everyone worldwide.


From Napster to Peer-to-peer networks

Over 10 years ago, a 19 year old student, build a very user friendly file sharing program that allow users to find and share music between themselves. Under the pression of cultural industry the program is quickly shut down.

Yet, in the meanwhile, teams of self-organized volunteers built decentralized versions that are much resilient to legal attacks because there is no central part or legal entities to attack. Although Napster was not open source, it inspired other projects and lead to a lot of innovations.

Today P2P file sharing is used massively worldwide, making almost the totality of culture accessible to everyone and challenging cultural industries business models. It is used to share and spread huge files, content that might be censored, and inspired the creation of a new political movement.

The distributed networked organizational model and bottom-up innovation

This three examples have a common core model:

One person has a need, works to solve it and build a solution. If enough people have the same interest, some volunteers will eventually come together and work in collaboration to build better solutions. In the end, without boss and wages,  they can innovate faster and better than established powerful corporations.

The way which this community works has been documented (see The Cathedral and the Bazar model) and is now better understood.

The network organization models works by combining creations made by the users for themselves (individual interest) with transparency and sharing that allow these creations to be used, tested and improved by other users. This leads to generation of fast and disruptive innovations from the bottom-up with diverse solutions being constantly generated, tested, reused or abandonned.

To be able to grow and generate quality products, the community organize itself using various governance models to drive its own development.

Open source culture and peer production, from the online to the offline world

As seen in Massimo Banzi’s talk, what’s event more interesting is that these peer production models are now coming from the online to the physical world and is about to affect a wide range of areas from farming to industry, including politics, finance,…

Expert on open source culture and peer to peer models, Michel Bauwens founded the Peer to peer foundation that studies and document open source innovation models.

In The Political Economy of Peer Production Bauwens regards p2p phenomena as an emerging alternative to capitalist society, although he argues that “Peer production is highly dependent on the market for peer production produces use-value through mostly immaterial production, without directly providing an income for its producers.” However, Bauwens goes on to argue that the interdependence is mutual: the capitalist system and market economies are also dependent on p2p production, particularly on distributed networks of information processing and production. Consequently, p2p economy may be seen as extending or already existing outside the sphere of free/open source software production and other non-rival immaterial goods.

This idea is explored also in the essay “Peer to Peer and Human Evolution” that expands the P2P meme beyond computer technology. It argues that egalitarian networking is a new form of relationship that is emerging throughout society, and profoundly transforming the way in which society and human civilization is organised. The essay argues that this new form of non-representational democracy is a crucial ingredient in finding the solutions to current global challenges; as well as a new and progressive ethos representing the highest aspirations of the new generations (from: Michel Bauwens P2P theory – Wikipedia)


Take some time to watch Michel Bauwens keynote on Open Source culture (1 hour video) to get a glimpse of what’s coming:

Further reading: The Political Economy of Peer Production

Not since Marx identified the manufacturing plants of Manchester as the blueprint for the new capitalist society has there been a deeper transformation of the fundamentals of our social life. As political, economic, and social systems transform themselves into distributed networks, a new human dynamic is emerging: peer to peer (P2P). As P2P gives rise to the emergence of a third mode of production, a third mode of governance, and a third mode of property, it is poised to overhaul our political economy in unprecedented ways. This essay aims to develop a conceptual framework (‘P2P theory’) capable of explaining these new social processes. Read more…

These new emerging models are just about to affect all the institutions and industries.

Watch out 🙂


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