Left: crowdsourcing Right: open source. By Chris Grams
Chris Grams hates it when people confuse open source and crowdsourcing. He explains the difference:
It finally hit me the other day just why the open source way seems so much more elegantly designed (and less wasteful) to me than what I’ll call “the crowdsourcing way.”
1. Typical projects run the open source way have many contributors and many beneficiaries.
2. Typical projects run the crowdsourcing way have many contributors and few beneficiaries.
opensource.com: Why the open source way trumps the crowdsourcing way
April 29, 2010 at 10:17 pm
I can’t agree with his analysis, which I would chalk up to some inherent problems with our conceptual understanding of the terms and a failure of insufficient analytic discourse on the subject. It seems to me that the difference between the two has nothing to do with number of contributors vs number of beneficiaries. The difference is that one is open, and the other is not necessarily. Wikipedia’s public editing process doesn’t make it open source. The wiki software may be open source, but Wikipedia itself is an example of crowdsourcing, not open source.
Allow me to explain. Though as a concept it came first, it seems to me that open source should be defined as a subset of crowdsourcing. Linux, in a sense, is crowdsourced. It is also open source. What makes it open? People can use and rewrite whatever they want. They have the ability to change anything they like and use it as much as they want, upload it so others can use it if they want, and if it proves popular with the group become a part of the bigger system. Open source is distributed, which I think is a key distinction. Wikipedia contributors add things according to a set process with a single public build that they do not have the freedom to use or change however they wish. Those are critical, defining elements to open source, without which, you can’t call something open. You can have hundreds of very different builds of linux out there. There is only one wikipedia. If we define open source according to whether it’s a top-down system or a community-driven system we lose the meaning of open source entirely. Consider: Red Hat distributes an open source operating system. Yet it pays its employees to work on improving that system for its own benefit. It has shareholders and a board of directors. It is top-down, not community-driven, whatever its history. It’s still open sourced.
99designs is a way to mitigate risk for design customers by offloading it onto a larger group. They get away with that by providing intangible benefits– the excitement of competition, sense of community, earning the respect of your peers, improving your skills. Certainly it’s exploitive in a way that Wikipedia is not; regardless, both are crowdsourced.
I look at the difference as being very similar to the difference between communism and anarchism. Both reject the conception of personal property. Communism may be rigid and constricting or not, top-down (few beneficiaries), bottom-up (many beneficiaries), any number of variations, up to and including anarchism. Anarchism has no authority– if the community doesn’t like your ideas or actions, they won’t accept them, or at worst they’ll leave you to your own devices and you can go start a community who agrees with you. But more importantly, they would not restrict you from living your life as you please, using the knowledge you gained from them to do so, unless you were seeking to harm them, whereas a communist community may or may not decide to restrict you. In either case, no money is received for labor, yet people see fit to participate regardless.
April 29, 2010 at 10:35 pm
Actually, Wikipedia is open source in exactly the same sense that Linux is – anyone can download Wikipedia and modify it and distribute their own fork of the project. And some people do (Citizendium – citizendium.org – for example has used articles that originated on Wikipedia as a foundation for their own articles. Many Wikia wikis are based on Wikipedia entries as well). No one’s stopping you from downloading the whole of Wikipedia and using it as the basis for Uriahpedia.