Think of this as Volume 16, Number 48 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
I was looking for patterns, and frankly for an e-book.
My review is far from complete – there are over 200 pages just in the first year I began my work – but what I have found is that my views on political patterns were first informed by my work on open source. I first wrote about what I called the “open source thesis” in 2006 , and I found, even then, that it matched up very well with the political aims of one Barack Obama.
What I learned fairly quickly is that proprietary measures aren't the point of open source. Open source is less about making money from code as it is about sharing the code workload, growing the totality of wealth. The more you or your company give to an open source project, in other words, the more you get as you gain the benefits of others' work on the same code base.
The best example from this current year is Rackspace. Rackspace was just-another Web host until they got together with NASA scientists to launch an open source project called OpenStack. This is a fully open source cloud infrastructure, and is loosely based on work originally done by NASA for its own use. (NASA felt it would get more out of the code base if it went open source, and got others' buy-in.)
Rackspace was the sponsor of OpenStack until this year, when the project was passed to an independent OpenStack Foundation, whose structure is loosely based on those of the Apache or Eclipse Foundations (a little more corporate). You would think that, after it “gave up control” of OpenStack, Rackspace would fall to Earth. But that hasn't happened. The company has instead gone from strength-to-strength, increasing its revenue base each quarter, and becoming increasingly profitable as well.
Many other companies, including Hewlett-Packard and Dell, have gone into the OpenStack business. Dell is basing its whole strategy on it, and has put all its efforts into building a network of OpenStack clouds and buying software that extends it. But guess what's happened? Dell has continued to fall, down 39% over the last year, while Rackspace has continued to gain, now up 56%.
Why is that? Because Rackspace is fully committed to the code base. It still has more committers at OpenStack than any other company. The only company that can compare is Red Hat, which is building a cloud platform called OpenShift on top of it. So if you're interested in using OpenStack in your company, who are you gonna call? To use the breakfast analogy, Dell is the egg but Rackspace is the bacon – it's committed to the enterprise. To the open source enterprise.
This is just one example. It can be analogized all across the economy, and this economic process represents a grave legal threat to our ideas of patent and copyright. Or does it?
Gigi Sohn notes, in her recent Public Knowledge piece about copyright reform, that these rights are part of the Constitution, but they have a specific purpose, and it's not private wealth. It's to “advance science and the useful arts.”
This idea of shared wealth from ideas, as opposed to owned wealth from ideas, sounds foreign to some ears. But corporations are not people, my friend. They're a method for sharing wealth, by organizing the work of many people to do what no one person can do alone. To an extent, the argument of “individual or group” in relation to patent and copyright ended a long time ago. The group idea won.
But because a Supreme Court clerk, in 1886, inserted a note calling corporations “people” into an unrelated railroad decision, this point has become obscured. We think of corporations as individuals, not as collectives, when collectives are what they are. It was only after this decision, in fact, that the copyright act came to be in concert with international norms.
So the idea of sharing ideas in order to advance science and art was settled long ago. Most patents and copyrights today are held by corporations, not by individuals. The heart of the open source thesis is merely extending this sharing realm from the space within corporations to that between them, expanding the wealth to be gained by sharing it, as corporations have shared that wealth for over a century.
The Southern Pacific decision and International Copyright Act came about in the run-up to what I've called America's second existential crisis, the Progressive Era. It turned on the election of 1896, on William McKinley, as our era has turned on the 2008 election of Barack Obama. The rise of open source matches up pretty well, in terms of the timeline, with that earlier time. And the subject in both cases is the same, opening up value by finding new ways to share wealth.
Open source is people, my friend.