Eclipse Ecosystem

A blog devoted to promoting the Eclipse ecosystem

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Ecstasy of the Commons

Mike was recently asked the question: "Do you think Open Source Software is suffering the tragedy of the commons?"

The "tragedy of the commons" is a concept popularized by ecologist Garrett Hardin in a 1968 article of the same name. Simply put - shared resources are doomed to over-exploitation. Oceans will be over fished, forests will be over cut, communal fields will be over grazed, and so on. More cynically, we are all incented to act in our own self interests even if they harm others through "negative commons" such as pollution. Garrett's note and subsequent research is MBA101 reading as it hits on so many concepts from economics to sociology to game theory.

Mike's response was blunt - "No". In fact, Mike, who is great with snappy one liners, said that he thought Open Source Software will become the defininition of the "Ecstasy of the Commons". What a great concept!

So here's the punchline - Open Source software is an example of a commons that gets BETTER every time it's used. Imagine if every time you drove your car, you reduced greenhouse gasses! Imagine if every time you threw out a piece of trash you made the environment cleaner. Every time you caught a fish it magically created two more somewhere else. Every time you use a piece of software, you're (for all intents and purposes) testing it. The more critical eyeballs that roam the code, the more wacky situations the code is put in, the more ways it gets extended and adapted - the better it gets. Better quality and more secure.

Are there any other commons that get better the more people use it? Is there any way we can apply some of the principles of open source to other commons so that they benefit the more they're used?

I have a number of conference sessions coming up soon where I'll be fleshing out this idea in more detail and applying it to the success of Eclipse. What is it about the Eclipse governance model and practices that facilitates the "ecstasy"? How does the F/OSS model work in the face of the "tragedies' noted by Hardin?

- Don


  • At 11:30 AM, Blogger Donald Smith said…

    Lawrence Lessig (an amazing speaker I've seen on a few occassions) talks about tragey of the commons, and the antithes "Comedy of the commons". Here is a link to a podcast of one of his disuccssions on this:


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