Cluster Theory of Open Source Economics

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Liquidware Antipasto:

"if you were going to build an economy from scratch around Open Source ideals, what would it include?

I’ll start by describing what I imagine is the Open Source Hardware process. Like a chemical reaction, Open Source Software starts with people who contribute time, a “reaction” occurs, and the output is a set of source code that does something. Meanwhile, Open Source Hardware starts with people who contribute time, and money, a “reaction” occurs, and the output is a set of physical, tangible hardware products.

As groups of people contribute, eventually they coalesce into “clusters” in which there is a critical mass, center of gravity, and a formal “project” is created. Sometimes there is a single, large cluster, like Linux, Firefox or Wikipedia. The field of Open Source Hardware, however, is far from mass-centralized, and instead there are groups and clusters of mini projects. One could argue that today there is a central Open Source Hardware project, the “Arduino” platform, surrounded by a set of smaller communities.

This “cluster”-based theory of Open Source Software and Hardware treats the Open Source Economy as a collection, or centralization of time and money. To have Open Source Software, you need clusters of time. To have Open Source Hardware, you need clusters of time and money.

Well, we all know where the time comes from – it comes from nights and weekends when you’re not working, and you decide to work or play on a project. You learn the project architecture, formulate an opinion, and decide to contribute to it. Actually, on a personal note, that summarizes my experiences with Open Source Software quite nicely!

But now that we want to do Open Source Hardware, I have to answer a more difficult set of questions:

  • Where does the money come from?
  • What is the best way to coordinate and centralize money?
  • How can the money be best structured so that the community reaps the benefit?
  • Can money be sourced from a distributed group of individuals or institutions, or does it have to come from one party?
  • Does money always need to generate interest through profit?
  • Are there other ways to sustain money in a community?
  • Who is incented to contribute money, and why?
  • What are good and bad reasons to contribute money to Open Source Hardware?
  • Does money always have to be structured in a corporate form?
  • Should Open Source Hardware have companies that make profit, or are there other ways?
  • What are examples of successful production economies that didn’t involve profit-seeking corporations? Can they provide lessons or motivation for Open Source Hardware?"


More Information

  1. Open Source Economic Principles