Andrew Keen has no idea how open models work.

In his latest article, he pontificates that the recent economic downturn is a death knell for community-supported or community-built programs/sites/&c.

So how will today’s brutal economic climate change the Web 2.0 “free” economy? It will result in the rise of online media businesses that reward their contributors with cash; it will mean the success of Knol over Wikipedia, Mahalo over Google, over the, iTunes over MySpace, Hulu over YouTube Inc., over, TechCrunch over the blogosphere, CNN’s professional journalism over CNN’s iReporter citizen-journalism… The hungry and cold unemployed masses aren’t going to continue giving away their intellectual labor on the Internet in the speculative hope that they might get some “back end” revenue. “Free” doesn’t fill anyone’s belly; it doesn’t warm anyone up.

There are really two broad fallacies that need addressing here. The first is Keen’s use of the word “open source,” which here is a misnomer. He never mentions Linux, Apache, or other open source programs which always have and will continue to have a dedicated base of programmers, most of whom work on it in their spare time, without any remuneration except personal pride and the esteem of their peers. It need hardly be noted that an economic downtown is likely to increase interest in open-source software, as it likely reduces operating costs for businesses.

No, what Keen means when he says “open source” is free-as-in-beer services, often serving liberally-licensed content; Wikipedia’s content is not open source (there’s no source to open), but it is available under the GNU Free Documentation License, which is something like a liberal Creative Commons license. Perhaps Keen has a sheet of words vaguely associated with Web 2.0 and just likes to throw them around in case his readers are too stupid to know better.

But then comes the bigger fallacy—i.e. in an economic depression, the things that motivated people to contribute to social sites and content servers will vanish entirely. Nevermind the fact that most of these services don’t necessarily imply the forfeiture of copyright; or that many already include ways to monetize one’s content. No, Keen fundamentally misunderstands why people contribute to things like Wikipedia. This isn’t a recent phenomenon borne on the largess of the Web 2.0 bubble; people didn’t start contributing to Wikipedia simply because they were so rich from their day jobs that they felt like giving something back. No, people like being a part of something. They like attaching their name to good work, free or not.

This is all a very roundabout way of saying that Keen couldn’t be more wrong; he apparently is crass enough to believe that anything one does can and should be tied to monetary compensation. I imagine he gets paid for his articles for Internet Evolution (if he was doing them pro bono, it would certainly speak volumes about his argument); perhaps he overestimates the value of his labor.

§2907 · October 22, 2008 · Tags: , , , , , , ·

1 Comment to “In defense of open models”

  1. Conor says:

    Dvorak-class trolling. Predicting the downfall of Huffington Post, Google, and Wikipedia? That is calculatedly absurd and meant to generate hits. I’d love to read the article myself and get more quotes, but I don’t want more traffic hitting his page, nor do I want his text to appear elsewhere and infect other parts of the internet with stupid.

    Oh, and I love the obvious conflation of social networking sites and PR management evidenced by the statement "iTunes over MySpace." He thinks that people go to MySpace to get free music? REALLY??

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