How markets coopted free software’s most powerful weapon
Keynote SeaGL 2019
App stores and the so-called “sharing economy” are two examples of business models that rely on techniques for the mass aggregation of distributed participation over the Internet and that imply didn’t exist a decade ago. In my talk, I argue that the firms pioneering these new models have learned and adapted processes from commons-based peer production projects like free software, Wikipedia, and CouchSurfing.
The result is an important shift: A decade ago, the kind of mass collaboration that made Wikipedia, GNU/Linux, or Couchsurfing possible was the exclusive domain of people producing freely and openly in commons. Not only is this no longer true, new proprietary, firm-controlled, and money-based models are increasingly replacing, displacing, outcompeting, and potentially reducing what’s available in the commons. For example, the number of people joining Couchsurfing to host others seems to have been in decline since Airbnb began its own meteoric growth.
In the talk, I talk about how this happened and what I think it means for folks of that are committed to working in commons. I talk a little bit about the free culture and free software should do now that mass collaboration, these communities’ most powerful weapon, is being used against them.
Benjamin Mako Hill, University of Washington
Benjamin Mako Hill is a social scientist, technologist, and activist. In all three roles, he works to understand why some attempts at peer production — like Wikipedia and Linux — build large volunteer communities while the vast majority never attract even a second contributor. He is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Washington. He is also a faculty affiliate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and an affiliate at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science — both at Harvard University. He has also been a leader, developer, and contributor to the free and open source software community for more than a decade as part of the Debian and Ubuntu projects. He is the author of several best-selling technical books, a member of the Free Software Foundation board of directors and an advisor to the Wikimedia Foundation.