Applying open source collaboration models to other creative endeavours
[this article originally appeared on the now defunct iCommons.org website on 2007–05–18, thanks to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine it’s being re-run here]
Those of you who have been paying attention to this series of articles looking at sharing and creativity will recall that last time we discussed enjoyment, hobbies and itch-scratching as factors motivating people to share their creations. We ended off with the threat that this time around we were going to look at some less rosy motivators — namely self-promotion and attention seeking. Again, we are the best example of the theory — if there is one reason why we are carrying on with this sad excuse to avoid any real work, then it is the wonderful attention we are getting from all of you, as expressed in the four thoughtful comments our last article received (two of which we wrote ourselves).
Right, now with that out the way, what exactly do we mean by self-promotion as motivation for sharing our creations? Well, one reason for software developers to contribute to a free software project is that it gets them recognition. Their name is often included in the source code, they make a lot of noise on the mailing lists, they are almost certainly mentioned on the website and in any official releases of the software, and more. If the software does well they may even be invited to speak at conferences or to consult on projects using the software. The word spreads along the geek grapevines that so-and-so is an excellent coder and before you know it they are on the front cover of Rolling Stone surrounded by adoring fans in thongs… Okay, okay, it’s more likely they will be on page 20 of Linux Format surrounded by stuffed penguin toys and empty pizza boxes, but you get the point.
Some famous people (Josh Lerner and Jean Tirole) even argue that contributing to a well-known project and the “fame” that goes along with this can then lead to better job opportunities, offers of venture capital should they decide to start their own projects and so on. So, while the initial contribution might have been for free, there is the thought that this will lead to some form of payoff/remuneration in the future. Academics call this “signalling effects”, non-academics can think of it as “streaking” (aaah, so that’s why there’s a picture of a half-naked man next to this article, and you thought it was just a cheap attempt on our part to get your attention). Some people disagree and there is little evidence of how important signalling effects really are for open source developers. What is clear though, is that a desire to promote oneself and one’s works applies to pretty much all forms of creativity: many musicians and actors are renowned for their shameless self promotion; an artist like Dali is so well-known not only because of the quality of his work but because he recognised the power of his brand from an early stage, and spent a lot time promoting himself.
Tied in closely with self-promotion is attention-seeking — a contributor can also feed the Ego cravings of the human ego by earning geek cred from his/her peers. As time goes by and the contributor makes more impact on a project this cred builds up and other people in the community pay more attention to them and their opinions until they have bands of disciples hanging on to every word they type. Rather like you lot out there and us (we dig the attention of course, but please stop calling in the middle of the night, the old-age home does not approve!) The current trend for everyone and their pet rodent to have a blog (even we will have one, when we take over iCommons completely) is a prime example of this phenomenon. Sure, some blogs provide useful information but many of them are just screaming out “look what I did yesterday, look what I did today, look at me, ME, ME!” Most bloggers don’t get paid for their output and instead do it as a form of navel-gazing ego fulfilment that they then share with the whole world (or the two people who actually read their blog — namely them and their pet rodent).
Next time we will continue looking at the “darker” sides of sharing, focusing on what some consider to be the root of all evil — the love of money. Yes after the fame, comes riches. Well, we most certainly hope so or we’ll be damned why we’re doing this. Send money now, we promise the next instalment will be well worth it.
“Waldhead!! Wake up, we’re famous now! Here come the girls in bikinis!”
“Oh boy! Let’s synchronize our pacemakers!”
Schmatler (Philipp Schmidt) and Waldhead (Mass Dosage)