Simon Phipps on Open Source: Redux

Posted on July 7, 2006

I was recently highly critical of Simon Phipps, in particular, his talk given at the Open Source Business Confrence. A long list of persons reacted strongly to the reports of his talk, all based on 3 reports of the event, most of which were horribly limited in scope.

In fairness to Simon, I was perhaps more critical than I should have been in my responce, due in large part to major frustration and anger I had the day I wrote it about something entirely diffrent. In essence, I probly should have had a better sense of when to put the keyboard down and wait 24 hours before writting anything, little less about this.

I requested that Simon release the speech entirely so I could see it as a whole instead of reacting to 1 or 2 lines taken out of context, and he pointed me to this: Zen Audio, here you’ll find an MP3 of the speech and the slides to go with it. This is the same speech although given at a diffrent event.

The reports suggested that Simon really hammered on this Open Source is about capitalism thing, but in review its only a part of the larger presentation. Yet again, this is all a case of bad reporting.

Nevertheless, I still object to Simon’s idea of “motivated self interest”. Many people have, but it all seems to boil down to what “self-interest” means. In his speech he points that this is typically some type of asset, tangable or intangable, whether its money, or services, or even status. I, however, feel that the roots of open source, that being free (as in freedom) software, is about love, not assets. For me, to say that my contribution is in fact motivated by personal gain is to detract from my purpose and lay it void. A lot of the arguments have been about whether “enjoyment” or “joy” is “self-interest”, and I don’t think that it is. And perhaps that something thats very personal to me, when you say “self-interest” I think “work”, and I don’t like to work… I’m really lazy actually, as soon as I feel I’m supposed to do something it feels like work and I resist it with all my might.

Simon’s remarks about not hiring developers wasn’t nearly as sinister as it came across in the press. The point was not that you avoid hiring people, but that no matter how many people you hire there are still really good people out there who can help but can’t work on staff, either because they don’t care that much, are in a distant part of the globe, only have interest in a small nitch of the product, or whatever. Out of context you can get really put off by his comments, in context they aren’t so stark.

So my big nit pick really is that his presentation seems to re-write history… or, shall we say, reframes it to fit where we are and how we got here. He illustrates the open source community as craft guilds and such. This isn’t wrong, so much as its suggesting that there is a lot more order in the way we got here than we did. This is a common problem with presentations outlining open source, what it is and how we got here. Perhaps pointing out that large chunks of the industry went kicking and screaming wouldn’t make such a good preso.

Reguardless, as I stated before, his points about Software 3.0 are correct, I don’t think that Open Source is required for that model but it certain pushed the issue. In this new model you can test, play, and deploy without cost and then send the check when your ready rather than paying bucks just to get in the door.

One thing is clear. This presentation is aimed at business folks… and free software isn’t about business folks. It is, however, a place where business folks can participate and even leverage. And perhaps this is my own little chicken and the egg paradox. As I see more and more presentations I worry that our history is being twisted, changed, and perhaps one day lost or confused beyond recognition. This ride started because people wanted things that worked and were kool and were fun and were collaborative. Everything grew out of that. Richard’s printer, Linus’s Intel box. Its not about goods and assets and directed self-interest, at least in my eyes, its about doing something kool and sharing the fun with all those would choose to play too.

… but I’m idealistic and an optimist, so, maybe I’m just aloof.