Wow. I’ve never seen a more completely wrong article than this one by Andrew Keen (author of “The Cult of the Amateur”):
It’s hard to know where to start. Does he really think that the best way to understand open source projects, and other collaborative projects like Wikipedia, is as a “donation” of “free labor” by people who are about to be reminded of the hard realities of life by the economic crash? Does he think that’s how the participants understand their own participation?
Of all the wrong sentences in his piece, this one perhaps best represents his core wrongness:
Being paid to work is intuitive to the human condition; it represents our most elemental sense of justice.
The only correct thing in that sentence is his use of the semicolon. Being paid to work is not only not intuitive to the human condition, it is a very recent phenomenon both evolutionarily and culturally; even today, it’s not clear that it accounts for a majority of human activity. What the volunteer open source developers and the Wikipedians of the world are doing is far more intuitively human than working for a wage will ever be, barring major structural changes to the human psyche.
In addition to everything else, Keen doesn’t even grasp the economics very well: if you’re unemployed, participating in an open source project doesn’t hurt you (because there’s no opportunity cost — you’re not giving up some other wage-producing activity in order to spend more time on the open source project), and may help by giving you contacts with people who can recommend you to jobs and vice versa. Furthermore, it helps you by giving you a satisfying sense of productive activity and collaboration with other people.
The economic downturn will not hurt open source, and it may actually help: if the value ratio of money to time goes down, then spending money buying software will become less attractive, and learning to use open source in corporate infrastructure will become more so (that is, long-term investments in cutting costs start to make more sense in a cash-starved environment, as opposed to, say, investing that money in market expansion). A great deal of open source work right now is supported by for-profit corporations that have already made that decision; in the coming months, more corporations will have reason to come to the same conclusion.
If anyone knows how to turn Andrew Keen into a stock, please let me know so I can short him.