von Francis Heylighen (08. Mar 2007)
The explosive development of "free" or "open source" information goods contravenes the conventional wisdom that markets and commercial organizations are necessary to efficiently supply products. This paper proposes a theoretical explanation for this phenomenon, using concepts from economics and theories of self-organization. Once available on the Internet, information is intrinsically not a scarce good, as it can be replicated virtually without cost. Moreover, freely distributing information is profitable to its creator, since it improves the quality of the information, and enhances the creator's reputation. This provides a sufficient incentive for people to contribute to open access projects. Unlike traditional organizations, open access communities are open, distributed and self-organizing. Coordination is achieved through stigmergy: listings of "work-in-progress" direct potential contributors to the tasks where their contribution is most likely to be fruitful. This obviates the need both for centralized planning and for the "invisible hand" of the market.
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Software is not an island, and the social behavior of insects is not so far away form us.