For this post to make any sense, you first must visit the TED talks web site and listen to the presentation on open source economics by Yochai Benkler. The comments generated by this presentation are also interesting.
Many theoretical ideas associated with open source and the participatory web fascinate me. I find myself caught on both sides of many issues. The idea of creating ways to capture collective intelligence is quite appealing. However, I also create content and make part of my income from a commercial product. How do individuals make their living when important products are generated by hobbyists? When someone makes a case for the economics of open source, I try to understand what he/she has to say.
What I struggle with is taking present examples through to some long term resolution. For example, open source software. No doubt, Apache is a great web server. Linux is a reasonable operating system. NeoOffice (Open Office for the Mac) is an effective office suite. Why pay for the commercial versions? This is a reasonable question and many of us use such products. However, consider pushing this software development model a bit. Who creates this software? These folks are not your local car dealer, grocer or college prof. These are professional software people who work outside their professional roles in a collaborative creative enterprise. But, what happens should these open source products threaten the projects these folks work on for their income? Even if people have the good sense not to develop hobby applications that compete with their professional specialties, the hobby products do compete with the income source for someone. What happens if most commercial ventures find themselves in competition with a group of hobbyists? Will the entire system break down? What incentive would their be for professionals to acquire the training and develop the skills required to function at a reasonable level? As this system matures will the system find a way to strike a balance that does not limit the development of future talent?