Photo: Flickr user lifeontheedge

Saturday, August 05, 2006

...and we're back. I'm at What can wikipedia learn from open source software projects? (A subject I've talked about before.)

A summary of the discussion:

Open source software has a large commercial ecosystem that interacts with and helps drive project development. But commercial interests can harm projects. Wikipedia should seek nonthreatening complementary product services!

Wikipedia has obvious advantages (more people can write english than can code C). But it also has disadvantages:

1. Monoculture means slower evolution (less mutation, because fewer projects). Open source projects borrow successful processes/institutions/best practices from each other. (But human-lanugage-based open source is young yet. It's also worth mentioning that different language versions of wikipedia have different policies. But diffusion of successful policies is hindered by ... er ... a language barrier. Personally, I think a lot of these variations rest in underlying cultural differences, and so may not be completely "portable". But they're worth examining.)

2. Software production (and industrial production, for that matter) uses automation: write once, use all over. But natural language production doesn't have economies of scale.

3. Software producers sometimes "eat their own dogfood" (use their own software). If something goes wrong, there's a high priority of fixing it.

O'Mahony seems to disagree with Lessig: open source is usually not a hacker adhocracy. Although open source coding procedures have remained similar, their framework has changed: now 2/3 of "volunteers" are actually sponsored by vendors. Corporate in-kind donations support the projects' production. (I'd argue that a broad definition of adhocracy encompasses the current situation.)

And finally a concrete example wikipedia can learn from: When projects delegate governance to a foundation, there's often a power struggle. (Luckily, the foundation hasn't gotten involved in micromanagement.)

(Sidenote: Wikipedia is less transparent than most open source projects -- that is, it's harder to follow as a whole. (Better visualizations would help there, I think. And there do exist general overview services like the Signpost.))

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