Keeping it Small and Simple

2008.03.28

Alfresco, business and community

Filed under: Open Source — Tags: , , — Lorenzo E. Danielsson @ 20:25

Thank you Russ for responding to my concerns regarding your previous post. Your reply fills in a lot of gaps and shows that our positions may not be quite as polar as my first response implies.

A few quick comments follow.

Is it good or bad for society when companies get this large? IMO, it depends — transparency matters at scale.

I understand that certain types of companies need to be large because of the massive investment required to even begin operations. And I agree the transparency is important. Whether or not businesses overall are transparent today is something that only time will tell. Enron, to take but one example, certainly was not.

First. I don’t work for Alfresco. I’m a community member. My opinions are my own.

Okay, cleared. Not that it would really have mattered much. I wouldn’t stop using Alfresco because of personal opinions. I would be afraid to use Alfresco if I felt that it belittled the community supporting it. More on that below.

I absolutely believe that open source has the potential to create both economic and vast social benefit.

Exactly what I hope and believe as well. I just happen to panic anytime I fear that community is being sidelined.

I like many have trepidation with large amounts of centralized power but this is because “absolute power corrupts absolutely. “ We can’t count of the benevolence of individuals or organizations because it is almost always temporal. In our industry IBM, Microsoft, Google have all struggled or continue to struggle to maintain the balance of scale and public perception. Be transparent, focus on the customer.

Well put. On an individual level I will claim that we can safely assume that within each and every one of us the ability to be both selfish and selfless, greedy and sharing, mean and kind. Often several urges exist within us simultaneously. That is why it is so flawed to divide people into good or bad, virtuous or immoral, etc.

We are also all moral agents. As human beings we can understand the consequences of our actions (if we reflect upon them). If I right about what I said in the previous paragraph, then there will be a constant struggle among different urges. In moral terms, we could say that there is an internal fight to do the “right” thing instead of the “wrong” thing. Sometimes one urge wins, at other times another in each individual, leading us all to have some degree of unpredictability.

With corporations things are very much different. Corporations, at least if we mean the modern business corporation, exists primarily to seek profit. It may have other functions as well, but the struggle for higher profits always take the upper hand.

Further, corporations are not moral agents. One could argue that the individuals behind the corporation are moral agents. But with a board of directors, CEO, stock holders, employees, etc., who decides? The shareholders ultimately want profits, which means that a business is forced to seek the path of profit, no matter what. IBM, Microsoft, Monsanto, Enron, Chevron, Exxon, Shell, Bechtel are just a few examples of businesses that have blood on their hands in the search for profits. Blackwater is an example of a company that is extremely disturbing because of the types of activities it involves itself in order to get more for its shareholders.

The System that is Open Source would not survive on community alone. “It’s not about community” is meant to say that open source is not a hierarchy of components but a network and that community alone does not make open source what it is.

It would be very easy for me to nitpick here and rip this apart, but I don’t think that will achieve anything, because I am sure that I understand what you mean, not what you wrote. Open source in some form could survive even without much business support. But that is not a form that neither you nor I would like to see. We want to see open source thrive and that will require a wide array of interests, including commercial ones.

I like Lorenzo believe that the community should be strong via its rights (example: right to fork, right to vote on direction) and diverse.

Obviously this is the core issue for me. It is what gives the open source community its anarchic nature.

When it comes to software development, I favor the model that is used by the Linux kernel hackers, among others. Each developer is essentially working on his or her own project, each of which happens to be a “fork” of Linux. Linus Torvalds studies each of these different forks and pulls in changes that he feels will benefit Linux itself. Very few people actually use Linux however. Most people use one or more of the “forks”.

This is a highly decentralized model. It ensures the liberty of each developer to work on exactly what they want to work on (obviously within the framework of the kernel). It could be validly argued that this can lead to inefficiencies as developers may be stepping on each others’ toes on some parts of the kernel, while parts are not worked on at all. But I would argue that liberty is more important than efficiency. We are human beings, not ants.

Also, assuming that the Linux kernel generates enough interest and thereby enough developers, in theory each part of the kernel should get worked on.

If my developers want to work on MySQL or other open source software (that is contextual to my business) on their own time – more power to them.

Thanks for a good response to something that became a bit of an unnecessary rant from my side. Part of my comments were not really fair, now that I look at them again. I do have a question about the that is contextual to my business. I hope that does not imply that you would be unhappy if they worked on, say, Battle for Wesnoth on their own time. After all, their own time is their own time.

I believe Alfresco should look for community partnership in core development, but I also believe that it will be rare that they find it. Development is expensive business and both sides must find ways to leverage each other in a fashion, which is symbiotic.

I think you are hitting on something here. The are relatively new relationships, at least on a larger scale. Sure companies like Red Hat have been around for quite some time now, but I think it will take a while before community and business in general learn to coordinate activities, to accept and take advantage of each others’ existence.

I remember a few years ago there was a lot of talk about “bounties” where developers solve specific problems for a company, present their solution and get paid. I kind of liked the idea, since I am a notoriously bad employee. It has since got quiet. I am not sure why. Does the model itself not work? Is it not being done right? Did Google Summer of Code kill it?

Open Source and in general the ideas put forward in Clue Train bring balance to the system by empowering the members of the market with a voice and a recognized lion share of the power. It rightly positions the companies in a position of service rather than in a position of supreme power with the potential for the kind of abuse that is associated there.

I have to admit, I didn’t read Clue Train yet. I will do so. Limiting corporate power, as well as any other form of power that cannot demonstrate itself to be legitimate, is very important to me.

Should people be compensated for their work? Yes, without a doubt in my mind. Should we have a social conscious? Yes Absolutely. I think that open source is capable of accomplishing both.

Difficult not agree with that. Note, however, my comments earlier, about the inability of organizations to be moral agents.

I believe in strong leaders who see social interests as commercial interests hence the Peter Drucker quote.

That one will take a bit of pondering. As you would expect, I ultimately do not believe in leaders at all, strong or weak. Or at least, only a few leaders in very specific circumstances who are forced to be accountable for every action they take.

I think that it would be a very good thing if we could get businesses to be socially aware at the same time as the seek profit. We probably differ on priorities. I would say that social responsibility should always take priority. You are probably of a different mind. At least I guess that you would want to get rid of the word “always”. Today, the general idea in most of the business community is the opposite: commercial interests should always take priority, for reasons I have already mentioned. I am very much opposed to that as I see it to be destructive on several different levels: environmentally, socially etc.

At the foundation, we differ in political beliefs. Not necessarily all. I believe that government and the legal system should be totally or largely eradicated, as I think they do far more harm than good. I believe we humans form societies naturally and that within a society there need to be rules. But I think communitarian forms of deciding an maintaining its own rules are better than laws that are dictated by elites (who also have the power to bypass those very laws).

I also believe that capitalism must be smashed. You will disagree here, no doubt, but I cannot find any way to justify a system that is founded on the principle of “individual greed leads to the common good”. History has shown that individual greed leads mostly to individual wealth. A system that does not put up any limits will by necessity migrate into more and more areas in search for more profits. Hence the assault on labor unions, the attempts to destroy any form of social welfare, the rise of large-scale corporate capitalism, global capitalism, war capitalism and disaster capitalism. New areas where profits can be found, while the individual is trampled upon.

In short, the capitalist system will destroy us all if we don’t dismantle it. I have given relatively little thought to how economic life would be organized. I would not want a situation where everything gets collectively owned (especially not if that collective owner is the state). It must be something that guarantees the freedom from working under anybody, individual, organization or the state.

This was hastily put together. Some of your comments deserve more thought. I am also not certain about exactly how open source can aid and promote social change by itself. I have a bunch of loose ideas, but there is nothing even resembling coherence among those ideas. I will touch upon this more at a later date.

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2 Comments »

  1. Interesting viewpoint.

    Comment by eWreckers — 2008.03.30 @ 12:01

  2. Pardon my business ignorance… what the heck does Alfresco mean?

    Comment by Brian Appel — 2008.05.21 @ 15:47


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