Why did you do it? Why did you give that thing away?

Applying open source collaboration models to other creative endeavours

Mass Dosage
4 min readJan 9, 2018

[this article originally appeared on the now defunct iCommons.org website on 2007–04–04, thanks to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine it’s being re-run here]

Image by Sel (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/)

Hello iCommoners,

Your hosts Schmatler and Waldhead checking in with the start of a discussion about why people contribute to open source software projects and whether the factors that motivate them to collaborate and share can be applied to other creative endeavours. As you can see from the picture to the left and our adopted names, we don’t want this taken as hard science even though we might occasionally be citing academic articles or adding a bit of our own empirical research. We’re opinionated and we are planning to lean quite far out of our comfortable theatre booth occasionally, but we like to think that these are informed opinions seeing as we work in the open source software field and also have interests in other forms of creativity like music, film, art etc. We want to get a dialogue going that relatively non-geeky people can follow, and perhaps even inject a bit of humour along the way.

There is some useful research on why people contribute to open source software projects, but we are aware that in some cases there will be a paradigm mismatch and that not everything from the software world applies — this is where you creative commons types involved in other fields come in. We will present what we think are motivating factors for sharing based on our software experience and we will try to extrapolate from these to other creative arts, but if you have other thoughts or disagreements we are open to these, bring ’em on.

Before we jump into the details though, we need to briefly mention the two foundations that underpin the kind of sharing and collaborating we are speaking about here. Firstly, we are dealing with information goods. Information goods can be stored, manipulated and sent around as digital files — like music (e.g. mp3's), books (e.g. PDF’s), software, etc. What distinguishes them from other goods, is that they are “non-rival”, which means Schmatler can give Waldhead an electronic copy of a song he wrote, without loosing his original copy — in the end both Schmatler and Waldhead have a copy of the song (which, given Schmatler’s musical talents might not necessarily be a good thing). That means sharing information goods is very different from sharing sandwiches (ask Schmatler to share his sandwich with Waldhead and you’ll see just how different). Secondly, more people are getting access to computers and the Internet, which means more people have the tools to produce music, make films, write books and share them electronically with the whole Internet at very low cost. This means there is all of a sudden a much larger community of potential creators and users.

We have come up with the following as the major reasons why people contribute to open source software projects, and over the next few months we will be looking at each of these in more detail and discussing how (and in some cases if) these apply to other forms of creativity:

  • Scratching your own itch (we won’t ask where it’s itching)
  • Hobbies (bring out that secret stamp collection!)
  • Self-promotion (look at me, I am awesome)
  • Attention seeking (please look at me, I really really am awesome)
  • Financial remuneration (I want to see the cash first!)
  • Improving skills (who needs a university degree anyway?)
  • Harnessing other people’s input (the African concept of ubuntu)
  • Altruism (don’t look to Schmatler and Waldhead for inspiration here, we are cold-hearted, cynical old grumpers)
  • Ideology (I said: IDEOLOGY!!!)

If anyone out there on the commons feels that we have left something out, feel free to comment on this article and let us know.

Of course people typically don’t get involved for just one of these reasons, it’s usually a combination of them. For simplicities’ sake we will be looking at them more or less individually in the next few articles ‘ to keep the thoughts in digestible bite-sized pieces and to avoid writing an article that scares off those with short attention spans. So, on that appetite-inducing note we’re going to leave with a quote from our Muppet friends…

‘This show is awful!’
‘See you next week?’
‘Of course’

Words by Schmatler (Philipp Schmidt) and Waldhead (Mass Dosage)