So the story that most people know is the story of free or open source software. This is market share of Apache web server-
-one of the critical applications in web based communications. In 1995, two groups of people said wow, this is really important, the web! We need a much better web server! One was a motley collection of volunteers who just decided you know, we really need this, we should write one, and what are we going to do with what — well, we’re gonna share it! And other people will be able to develop it. The other was Microsoft. Now if I told you that 10 years later, the motley crew of people who didn’t control anything that they produced acquired 20% of the market and was the red line (refers to second largest share on graph), it would be amazing! Right? Think of it in minivans. A group of automobile engineers on their weekends are competing with Toyota. Right?
But in fact, of course, the story is it’s the 70% (refers to top blue line), including the major e-commerce site — 70% of a critical application on which web based communications and applications work is produced in this form in direct competition with Microsoft, not in a side issue — in a central strategic decision to try to capture a component of the net.
This got me curious. How does this happen? Is it really just a motley crew, a group of random people drawn together in the interest of building a Web Server? Well, it may have started that way but it no longer is. They now operate under what is called a meritocracy. They call this government by merit where newcomers are considered as volunteers who are looking to help rather than people who are coming to steal power.
Being no conservative resource at stake (money, energy, time), the group was happy to have new people coming in and help, they were only filtering the people that they believed committed enough for the task and matched the human attitudes required to work well with others, especially in disagreement.
Meritocracy enables various roles: user, developer, committer, PMC Member, PMC Chair, and ASF Chair. Anyone can rise in status and reputation by adhering to the “Apache Way”.
· collaborative software development
· commercial-friendly standard license
· consistently high quality software
· respectful, honest, technical-based interaction
· faithful implementation of standards
· security as a mandatory feature
There are no conservative resources (money, time, energy) at stake. People can give as little or as much as they like. Here is a fascinating model of collaborative production that centers upon reputation and recognition. This does not mean that those who participate cannot profit from their reputation within the Apache organization. Many do. That profit however, is extraneous to the workings of the Apache Software Foundation itself.
Can this approach be applied to other digital media? I think so. Of course there may be variations but the creation of a culture that is narrowly focused upon a particular outcome can be driven by cooperation and recognition. Wikipedia is certainly an example of this. Slashdot, one of the Webs oldest blogs is regulated by a system that thrives on participant reputation. Could a movie be produced under this model? Could news be published? How about books? All yes, I think.
And yet in the face of compelling evidence, organizations like the Philadelphia Enquirer cling to the old business model. Old ways die hard. 150 years of an industrial information economy will not be supplanted by a digital information economy over night. There are conservative resources, particularly money, at stake. For those who refuse to see reality, the outcome will be irrelevance. But that’s ok, there will always be a place for them to begin within an area that interests them as a user.