Why the open source way trumps the crowdsourcing way

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Two different business organization charts


A while back, I wrote an article about why the term crowdsourcing bugs me. Another thing that drives me nuts? When people confuse crowdsourcing and open source. My friend David Burney wrote an interesting post on this subject a while back highlighting the differences. 

It finally hit me the other day just why the open source way seems so much more elegantly designed (and less wasteful) to me than what I'll call "the crowdsourcing way."

1. Typical projects run the open source way have many contributors and many beneficiaries.

2. Typical projects run the crowdsourcing way have many contributors and few beneficiaries.

crowdsourcing diagram

It's such a simple concept, it seems obvious. Let's look at a few examples to illustrate why this simple difference means so much.

Linux is perhaps the most obvious example of a project (or set of projects, depending on how you look at things) being run the open source way.

There are lots of contributors working on Linux-related projects, including folks working on the Linux kernel, folks working on different distributions of Linux-based operating systems, and people working on other associated projects.

Each contributor who works on a Linux-related project offers time and effort, and is a 100% guaranteed beneficiary of something in return—free access to use Linux distributions made better by his/her contribution.

The equation for the contributor is simple: work on project = use project for free (of course anyone can use the project for free whether they contribute or not, they just might not get the extra benefit of seeing the stuff they wanted/created in the project).

Everyone who contributes also benefits. Beautiful.

Now let's look at an example of something being run the crowdsourcing way. I'll pick on 99designs, a site where designers compete to design logos and other materials for clients. It's truly astounding—some of the 99designs projects have hundreds of designers contributing ideas.

Yet in most cases only one designer is the beneficiary of something in return—the designer whose idea is chosen by the client. All of the other design work, representing in some cases 100s or 1000s of hours of time, is wasted.

Hundreds of contributors, but only three beneficiaries: 1) the company that requested the design 2) the designer who produced the winning work and 3) 99designs, the company that hosted the project.

Such inefficient system design makes me cringe.

At least in an open source project like Linux, even if your code isn't accepted, you still benefit from being able to use the distribution. In an extreme crowdsourcing example like the one above, you get nothing.

I began thinking about all of the open innovation, open source, and crowdsourcing projects I've run across in the last few years (Stefan Lindegaard has a great list here). If 99designs is near one end of the spectrum, and Linux is near the other end, I wondered, where do these other projects fall?

So a task for you: Here's a short list of well-known and oft-written-about open innovation, open source, and crowdsourcing projects.


Campbell's Ideas for Innovation

Cisco I-Prize

Creative Commons

Dell IdeaStorm


Google Summer of Code

IBM Collaboration Jams



Intuit Labs


Netflix Prize

P&G Connect + Develop

Pepsi Refresh Project

My Starbucks Idea


Where would you place these projects on the chart?

1. Many contributors, many beneficiaries

2. Few contributors, many beneficiaries

3. Many contributors, few beneficiaries

4. Few contributors, few beneficiaries

And please, if you are a crowdsourcing advocate, come to its defense. Is crowdsourcing actually more efficient than I am giving it credit for here?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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Chris Grams is the Head of Marketing at Tidelift and author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World. Twitter LinkedIn Email: chris(at)tidelift.com


I'll be devil's advocate, just because I don't hate the word crowdsourcing as much as you do.

First of all, your stated "true" benefit of being a Linux developer is that you see your code and the features that you wanted in the product. But if your code doesn't make it in, now you're just everybody else. You're the designer whose logo didn't get used. You've got the same copy of Linux everybody else has, without your work in it.

But that's OK, because I don't think what you're considering lost work is completely lost in either case. I can't prove it, but I'd be willing to bet that a significant percentage of those 99designs designers are students and entry-level people who need to build portfolios. Sure, it helps to be able to say you made this for a company, but even if it wasn't used, you still made it. It's better than nothing. You may have learned a new technique in the process. And if it really was good, but not what that client wanted, you may be able to repurpose some of it later.

Finally, why are you making this out to be a choice? It's not like only open source or only crowdsourcing can exist. There's room for both of them in the world. It's a matter of which process works better for the problem at hand. You simply cannot have 100 people designing a logo. But you can have 100 people create logo ideas and use the best one.

Hi ruth-- I'm not sure I'm making it out to be a choice. I view it more as a spectrum or a map, plotting different projects based on how efficient their design is in terms of work/benefit.

What's becoming clear to me is that there are some efforts that call themselves "crowdsourcing" that have much in common with the open source way (many beneficiaries, etc.), and some that call themselves open source, but are actually more like crowdsourcing. So the words and the design don't always match.

Without getting lost in the semantics, the big concept I'm interested in here is system design/efficiency. I'll save for another day the cultural/community differences between crowdsourcing and open source, which I also think are pretty important.

But it's not about efficiency at all--you're giving 99designs a hard time for having only one beneficiary in the end. That's just a fact of the project at hand. How would you suggest they change?

my view? it is absolutely about efficiency. 99designs (and other sites like it) have three beneficiaries (client, winning designer, and 99designs) and 100s of designers who do work but receive no benefit (unless they value experience and the other things you pointed out in your original comment). Wasted work = inefficiency.

There are lots of inefficient systems out there in the world (most governments are pretty good examples) that survive and even prosper despite their design flaws.

As far as how they change... I'm not sure they need to as long as they make a good living doing what they are doing and there are people who don't mind doing work for the chance at something. As Burney pointed out in his post, it's really just a contest/competition at that point.

Stefan's comment below is one I agree with-- I'm not suggesting that crowdsourcing is evil-- it does result in great innovation in many cases. Both systems are better than a lot of traditional approaches to innovation.

I'm suggesting that it is less efficient than the open source way, and I'm wondering if there are some ways to make it better.

hope that helps!

When efficiency is not a design goal, it's not a design flaw. For example: the most "efficient" government structure is an authoritarian dictatorship. Many of the inefficiencies in our government were designed-in to the system (aka checks and balances).

I would argue that inefficiency is part of any good creative design process. Developing multiple design concepts in order to get to the best design is a best practice, and 99designs simply enables it on a broad scale.

One concept to better align benefit with work with 99designs would be to be able to have a sliding scale of payment, so that the project sponsor is actually paying for the design process, as opposed to just the winning design. Give a few bucks to each of the top 10 designs and more to the winner, and maybe you get better quality or more participation.

thanks for the comment, Todd!

i love the idea of the client in a design project paying for the process as opposed to just the winning design.

another idea along these lines: if the client is paying for the process rather than just the winning design, there may even be ways to create incentives for designers to collaborate with each other rather than each working entirely on their own.

Hey Chris -- that refined view of crowdsourcing you describe -- 'the client in a design project paying for the process as opposed to just the winning design.' -- is what we've built on AdHack in response to what we've learned doing crowdsourcing for creative services.

Step 1 - Match the job to the right crowd of creators.
Step 2 - Buyer reviews creator portfolios and selects creators to do concepts.
Step 3 - Creators each get paid to deliver concepts.
Step 4 - Buyer chooses which concepts graduate to production at an increased rate.
Step 5 - Creator(s) deliver production work.

We found that we had to offer a balance between choice for buyers and incentives for creators. We also wanted to ensure rewards were commensurate with value created.

Asking people to work for free was not the business we wanted to be in. It was also a hard business to be in because we constantly had to recruit new creators (no one likes to work for free for long). And it didn't feel fair.

As an addition, top-notch creators, who are the people buyers really want to work with, don't work for free. So we evolved our model to better attract top talents.

And we see many folks evolving their crowdsourcing models into more nuanced and sustainable businesses. Thanks for sparking this conversation.

The way I see it - not that you asked me - the question is what strategy do we embrace and where do we find brilliance that is consistent enough to design a business - is that true?

Crowdsourcing like 99desings delivers a nice tool for good (enough) stuff cheap. I'd consider using them for t-shirt design (or Threadless) but I believe their methods are too exploitative to find true brilliance.

The other question I have is: Is it sustainable? What happens during a strong economy with full employment when brilliance becomes even more critical? My guess is that crowdsourcing will lose luster - brilliance won't need no stinkin' crowdsourcing. Crowdcasting or Opensource - that is sustainable seems to me.

The argument Ruth makes is a cogent on, and really extends beyond just open source and crowdsourced. The key thing is that an organization needs to have choice in fulfilling its needs. The open source movement is probably one of the better things that has happened to the software/IT industry in the last decade. However, if an organization chooses to adopt COTS software for a certain purpose, open source for another need, and a crowdsourced solution for yet another, that should not lead to any negative characterization of that organization.

Somehow - naturally or through cultural/societal conditioning - we seem to have a tendency to arrive at only one best solution for any given need/problem. Sometimes there can be multiple, equally good solutions. FOSS is great thing, but there can be (and there are) other good things in the software industry.

I'm rereading Crowdsourcing the book. As a result, it's clearer to me that crowdsourcing - as 99designs practices - is exploitative but the transitional forces are crowdcasting and opensource. Crowdsourcing at it's best is like having a vast network of unpaid interns, enthusiasts or underemployed professionals organized into a community.

The interesting twist, one that James Surowiecki goes some length to emphasize and Jeff Howe points to as well, is the need for diversity in the crowd being sourced. The problem as I see it is that once organized into tribes, diversity escapes. Thus morphing the crowd into like minded groups. iStock photo is a good example of crowd / community homogenization.

Good clear explanation Chris - thanks.

Hi Chris,

I like your ideas and I think it is good to simplify things like you do with the chart. The only thing to note is that both open source and crowdsource have value although in different ways and thus they are both legit ways to innovate.

First off, thanks for trying to tease open source and crowdsourcing concepts apart. Far too many just lump it together in this big mass of vaguely open and collaborative ways of doing things.

I also think it's pretty important to put these on a continuum. We can argue whether the categories can be defined differently, but it's good to understand that there's variation in these models.

Finally, I'm just wondering whether there is any mileage in describing crowdsourcing as a broader and more efficient market where one side engages in transaction (in 99designs case "Make a design I like the best") sourced from the greater array of the contributors. By contrast, contributing in the open source sphere is typically contribution to a common, shared pool of resources.

This all sounds half-baked to me, but maybe this difference between the market and the common may be a useful category.

Perhaps the best-known crowd source model is Wikipedia. It does not benefit the few. But an even better model is the concept of Public Libraries as implemented in the USA: a collection of readily accessible yet discrete units of knowledge, entertainment, and current events data. Each is uniquely constituted using general guidelines but with locally-developed specific criteria, drawing from the larger crowd of published units which fit a series of APIs. In both cases the product is a resource tool, achieving its goal through distributed contributions by many and useful to the contributors plus a much wider audience. In neither case are all contributions incorporated, nor are all contributions helpful to the many, instead contributions are measured against subjective and objective criteria before inclusion, and may be superseded by later contributions.

Neither crowd sourcing nor the 'open source way" (which, imo, you've presented in an absurdly idealized manner) is 'better'; each has strengths and weaknesses which are subjectively measured against equally subjective project goals. Clearly for some things one or the other is used successfully.

Efficiency, by your measure, is how much 'work' is wasted. But for another measure it might be how much 'time' it takes. Compare the timeline of the Britannica and Wikipedia, and that objective studies now find Wikipedia to be less flawed/factually incorrect while covering hundreds times the number of topics. Another measure of efficiency might be how often a project's product would be used: OpenOffice is a brilliant piece of typesetting-quality software, but gedit is used more often to jot entries to a shopping list and thus deserves more developer time and attention. Your choice of measures determines what you will consider 'better', but it does not in fact give an objective comparison - it's just your opinion.

Hi Amgine-- You are right, Wikipedia is a great example of crowdsourcing where there are many contributors and many beneficiaries. It can also be a great example of doing things the open source way, as I've written about before.

At some point, language quits being our friend, there is so much nuance to the way every project is designed that the terms open source and crowdsourcing probably oversimplify things in most cases. My hope is that the matrix starts to allow us to map things rather than put them in buckets, and in that sense, my article title is probably not helping things:)

I like your thoughts about how to think about efficiency in multiple ways.... As I was thinking through the 2x2 matrix concept, one of the things that occurred to me is that the best type of efficient work project might not be the "many contributors, many beneficiaries" one. It might actually be the "few contributors, many beneficiaries" one... another measure to consider might be impact... for instance if there are few users, but the project has incredible impact for each of them, how do we account for that?


As someone who has a lot of time in Wikimedia projects, I often think of examples there first. Here's one that has been bugging me for years: Wikipedia is used a *LOT*, approaching its billionth edit within a week. But in *application* its content is used microscopically compared to the dictionary: while I'm typing this every keystroke is being compared to at least one spelling dictionary.

Yet the WMF's Wiktionary data - http://en.wiktionary.org - which is the largest single freely-licensed lexical resource on the planet, is not used in the slightest by the Opensource community.

Efficiency, and marrying both crowdsourcing and open source models, seems to be impossible even when it's obvious.

Thanks Chris for starting this conversation.

If people have time and are willing to contribute on spec, why stop them? We can contemplate that this will destroy the market for 'legitimate' creative and creator livelihoods; but who knows how crowdsourcing will evolve? Hollywood creatives lined up en masse against the VCR, later to find video rental a major revenue source.

If crowdsourcing is not sustainable, not universalizable, then it will go away -- maybe not right away but it will: either crushed by community opprobrium or morphed into something else. This is a transitional moment in 'the way that work gets done', historically.

Personally I think there's a future in shifting crowdsourcing to let creators extend the value of their work, once it is not selected as a contest winner. The Creative Commons license offers a way to do this. Now someone just needs to create a Getty Images-like cooperative to help market the non-chosen CC-licensed designs.

I've been working on a project that will launch today or tomorrow, with CrowdSpring, Creative Commons and Lulan Artisans that attempts to do just that. CrowdSpring made engineering changes to their system to accommodate the election of a CC license. (You can read about it on Lulan Artisan's site www.lulan.com -- we're porting the contest to CrowdSpring for tomorrow).

The idea is to give CS contest participants the ability to control what happens to their designs *after* they are not chosen as winners. The designs and entries become extensible -- they become more-findable 'drawer creative'.

Maybe not a big step toward improving the efficiency of crowdsourcing, but at least has the potential of upside to the creators who didn't win, where now there is none.

Chris - This is great. I am following this model with my crowdsourced consulting startup venture...

Business consultants can share (or sell) solutions to problems they have worked on in the past with other consultants or businesses. If they are sharing the solution, they can use one of the CC licenses to dictate it's use after the initial 'share'. These solutions which are being shared freely provide the consultant with a way to market their work/skills and open source their development.

I'm anxious to see the results of how your experiment works with Crowdspring.

The idea of OpenSource is what, 20 years old? Crowdsource
maybe even less. So, not enough time or examples to really
say which is better. Each has its moments and each has its

Anything that is consultative is very tricky, one ego can spoil
the whole project. One misunderstood concept can kill a
project. Bad information, wrong mix of personalities, its not
going to work.

How about combining the strengths of both?

You go onto http://www.topcoder.com and, initially, it looks really clever. Wow, you think, this leverages competition to generate 'award winning' work.

Then you look at the work. It's awful. Try some of their design examples http://studio.topcoder.com/

Why? Because it's a mugs game. Just like bidding on http://www.swoopo.com -- the moment you grok the business model, you realise that taking part rips you off. So good people simply don't take part.


Hi Chris,
Another fundamental difference might be a common understanding of community boundaries. With crowd-sourcing community boundaries are endless thus the community from a psychological perspective feels vast and unsafe therefore unsustainable.

With open-source, boundaries are much more clearly defined, example: Linux employees are working for Linux.

Wikipedia in my opinion is an example of open-source and not crowd-sourcing. Wikipedia's boundaries "ARE" clearly defined as: global internet users. For an encyclopedia, this makes perfect sense and is conceptually in line with the function of the platform. For Wikipedia to be open-source it would have to define a much smaller community. Yet be utilized by a larger one...I think.

correction on the 2nd to last sentence.

Wikipedia is an example of both crowd-source and open-source.

I prefer projects where everyone can contribute or participate rather those where lots of people can submit, but only one gets chosen. Granted, the quality of submissions from the masses won't be equal, but if you can accommodate everyone (by perhaps having a website that has small thumbnails of everyone's submission or picture of each contributor or something), I think people will feel more connected to the project.

But to have these sorts of projects where everyone can participate takes some planning. You've got to develop a system where everyone can point to their contribution, even if it is small.

If you are going to reward the best design or idea and the goal is to find the best, then I think the financial reward should be more than a token. Don't use crowdsourcing solely as a way to generate good ideas that you don't have to pay much for.

...but I think some of the description is not quite right.

For the same reasons Ruth pointed out about the unused code, and the unused designs; it might not have made it into the initial intended project, but the idea(s) in it could be recycled/re-purposed into other projects, and the designer may have gleaned some minor visibility from participating in the competition.

I think a better point is that the crowdsourced idea(s) seem more transient and are not inherently "built" with openness in mind. You could in theory crowdsource a project to produce some fixed, proprietary result, but then questions about who puts in what, and the durability of the whole enterprise comes into question almost immediately.

The only time this works is when you have something like Amazon's Mechanical Turk or Crowdflower, which create a pool of supply (willing participants who can get some compensation for at-will participation in ad-hoc requests) for very discrete events. In that case, there is no real sense of community or openness, only the harnessing of easily acquired resources to an exogenously defined end.

I can't agree with your analysis, which I would chalk up to some inherent problems with our conceptual understanding of the terms and a failure of insufficient analytic discourse on the subject. It seems to me that the difference between the two has nothing to do with number of contributors vs number of beneficiaries. The difference is that one is open, and the other is not necessarily. Wikipedia's public editing process doesn't make it open source. The wiki software may be open source, but Wikipedia itself is an example of crowdsourcing, not open source.

Allow me to explain. Though as a concept it came first, it seems to me that open source should be defined as a subset of crowdsourcing. Linux, in a sense, is crowdsourced. It is also open source. What makes it open? People can use and rewrite whatever they want. They have the ability to change anything they like and use it as much as they want, upload it so others can use it if they want, and if it proves popular with the group become a part of the bigger system. Open source is distributed, which I think is a key distinction. Wikipedia contributors add things according to a set process with a single public build that they do not have the freedom to use or change however they wish. Those are critical, defining elements to open source, without which, you can't call something open. You can have hundreds of very different builds of linux out there. There is only one wikipedia. If we define open source according to whether it's a top-down system or a community-driven system we lose the meaning of open source entirely. Consider: Red Hat distributes an open source operating system. Yet it pays its employees to work on improving that system for its own benefit. It has shareholders and a board of directors. It is top-down, not community-driven, whatever its history. It's still open sourced.

99designs is a way to mitigate risk for design customers by offloading it onto a larger group. They get away with that by providing intangible benefits-- the excitement of competition, sense of community, earning the respect of your peers, improving your skills. Certainly it's exploitive in a way that Wikipedia is not; regardless, both are crowdsourced.

I look at the difference as being very similar to the difference between communism and anarchism. Both reject the conception of personal property. Communism may be rigid and constricting or not, top-down (few beneficiaries), bottom-up (many beneficiaries), any number of variations, up to and including anarchism. Anarchism has no authority-- if the community doesn't like your ideas or actions, they won't accept them, or at worst they'll leave you to your own devices and you can go start a community who agrees with you. But more importantly, they would not restrict you from living your life as you please, using the knowledge you gained from them to do so, unless you were seeking to harm them, whereas a communist community may or may not decide to restrict you. In either case, no money is received for labor, yet people see fit to participate regardless.

Let's say I crowdsource a solution to a problem I have with developing a new cool product. I achieve the solution from the crowd and this enables me to sell the new product. This new product is - because I'm a savvy massmarketer - bought by twentyfive million people. They bought it because they considered the product to be worth more to them than the price I charge, thus consumer surplus was created. Now, multiply that average individual consumer surplus by 25M. No matter the size of that number compared to various opensource examples, this reasoning is anyhow an example of many problem solvers, many problem beneficiaries within the realm of crowdsourcing. Thus, your model of the phenomena (implying that crowdsourcing is many problem solvers, one single beneficiary) is internally invalid because it does not properly represent all the beneficiaries in a complex value network like our economy.

@Marcus I take your point that the value may correlate once you take into account the benefit of the product created.

Perhaps this is an interesting resolution to the catch 22 I discussed above (and in more depth here: http://cl.o.se/post/546581363/crowdswooping ). However, my target was the incentive to participate. If the outcome of a competition is social good, or something people are simply happy to participate in for the sake of the product, that's not a problem. Crowdsource away. The issue comes when people want to get paid.

In that case, with "crowdsourcing as presented by Topcoder" there is a disconnect because the participants stop getting paid before the product is launched.

Now, perhaps an understanding of this does point to a resolution. If participants can be given some ownership of the result, then it opens up the potential for renumeration. It's more like the author publishing and drug dealing economies: you struggle but when you make it, you make it big.

Question is, how would you do this? Does the winner just get ownership or do you try to quantify value across multiple participants / collaborators?

I feel that for crowdsourcing to unlock value, it needs to enable collaboration. Yet how do you do this when people are competing for the prize?

History flow was a study by IBM of wiki contributions. It tracked the content of articles as they changed over time, comparing diffs. Using it one could easily show that large percentages of articles remain unchanged over hundreds, even thousands, of edits, and occasionally undergo substantial re-writes which result in near-obliteration of previous text.

Using this concept one can show what percentage of a current article - or software source code - is due to which author.

The drawback is inefficient code (verbosity) is weighted, and it becomes desirable to do massive rewrites rather than fix only what is broken.

Hi Chris, and thanks for your interesting and thought-provoking analysis. Let me first say that I'm in awe of the folks who contribute in open source projects as they contribute their time and energy generally without expecting anything in return... Bravo!

Re the 2 models: My startup, World4Brains.com has been operating since day one (early 2008) with a crowdsourcing concept (consulting & innovation) that rewards all valuable input given, so it already fulfills your ideal of "many contributors, many beneficiaries".

Basically, consultants share equally in the project amount (they can also receive direct bonus or negotiated payments). We go as far as even guaranteeing that our consultants do get paid for their valid & valuable contributions.

The way it works in brief is that first the client decides and appoints whose contributions were helpful to his project. If necessary World4Brains looks at the merits in second instance, and worst case scenario, we have an independent expert panel to make a final decision (that was never necessary, so far, as clients just love to reward great contributors!)

It is more appropriate to describe the crowdsourcing alternative , as you have described it, as Peer-to-Peer.


Under certain conditions crowd"whatevering" can fit into a peer-to-peer dynamic, but most often it is used to create systems, products, or other assets in a fashion often described as "Netarchical Capitalism," where the product is held, owned, or administered by a select few, as opposed to being available to the wider network which created the asset.


Most of the above examples are Peer-to-Peer, but the cases where the control of the product rests in the hands of a few signify Netarchical Capitalism.

While it is true that crowdsourcing does not always benefit the many, what is important to notice is how the outcomes of the systems, the products, are handled. Does the network have the rights to the use of the product or not?

As someone who has studied expert peer production for a decade, the conflation bugs the hell out of me too. Here is a panel where we address some of the differences:


I think crowdsourcing (and that is still a terrible name) does work in certain instances but for sustainability and complex projects, it is not going to work!


Free software was the originator of open source, yet it was not compatible with business (RMS was offensive to many companies and the idea of share-alike/"viral" GPL as well).

People, for good business reasons then created the brand "open source" to be an all inclusive idea that included more licenses and took the focus away from the fight for freedom and sharing that Stallman had be pushing. This was very good for business. It was a mutation on the idea to make the idea more viable in a corporate environment. A Meme adapting to copy itself onto new hosts..

Then, the idea of sharing with anyone else at all really offended some companies, especially the bottom line, so the crowdsourcing removed all sharing back the rights with the contributors. The same happened when companies created their own new open source license that are incompatible with everything else (like so many "open source" projects do) or with no sharing back which in effects creates a crowdsourcing because the extensions to your work are not shared back with you.

Basically you can see a regression from freedom to none. From being a co-owner to a mere user who is helping out with no rights.
It seems that RMS was right on some points.

On the other hand what do you expect from the megacorps? Are they going to do anything for anyone, ever? Don't hold your breath.

But let me try and remove the politics and ethics here,
even if crowdsourcing might offend people and freedom is the best, there are very serious reasons why google might not make its map data part of openstreetmap :

Satellite photos are not free, rockets to space are not free. The cost of getting sat images is amazing, and the restrictions on them are very high. If you ever tried to purchase a sat photo, you will find out very quickly.

So, I would like to put this into a new perspective : Meme wars.

You have a simple fight for your minds. The ideas, the memes, "want" to be copied and reproduce. The successful ones are copied more. There are different ways to succeed, and not all of them include sharing as much as others.

Basically, you have a couple of memes, Free Software, Creative Commons, Open Source, Microsofts perverted open source thing, Crowdsourcing. Each of which are just mutations of some basic concept : copying of data and sharing of it under some terms (copyleft).

The fact that there are so many spin-offs and mutations of the copyleft idea shows you that it is very adaptable. Everyone is trying to get help for free as they can, the one has less to offer than the other, the one expects less in return than the other.

When we look at some project like openstreetmap, we have people with little resources in the beginning (have nots) who are working together to create something good, where the original authors and community will benefit. Then you have established companies who have lots of resources (haves), who are responding to this competition with an incompatible schema where they will benefit.

I think the best way to analyze this phenomenon is to think about the following questions :

Who is investing, how much?

Normally such things are started by people who have a great idea and passion, yet few resource except skill and time.

Then you will see a cut off point where instead of contributing to the original seeder, large companies with lots of resources, but less time will jump in and create a new mutated branch that is incompatible. This is the meme working here, natural selection. You will then have a competition between the original and the new ones.

So, I think you should add into your diagram the dimension of money and then the image should become clearer.

I hope my post was understandable.


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