We are in the midst of a true revolutionary era, a true paradigm shift in the way we create, produce, manage, store, distribute, configure, and consume information and objects. The new Open Source Paradigm represents a profound change just as revolutionary as the birth of mass production, and the economic changes that led to the writing of The Wealth of Nations in 1776. When most people think of Open Source, they think of Linux, Apache, GCC. In short, they think of software applications. But it won't be a true revolution if it remains a mainly software phenomenon.
As a result, people are moving beyond software, and into other fields such as medicine, media, scientific research, engineering, etc. In the November 2003 issue of Wired Magazine, an article was published about the application of the Open Source paradigm to other fields.
Open source has spread to other disciplines, from the hard sciences to the liberal arts. Biologists have embraced open source methods in genomics and informatics, building massive databases to genetically sequence E. coli, yeast, and other workhorses of lab research. NASA has adopted open source principles as part of its Mars mission, calling on volunteer "clickworkers" to identify millions of craters and help draw a map of the Red Planet. There is open source publishing: With Bruce Perens, who helped define open source software in the '90s, Prentice Hall is publishing a series of computer books open to any use, modification, or redistribution, with readers' improvements considered for succeeding editions. There are library efforts like Project Gutenberg, which has already digitized more than 6,000 books, with hundreds of volunteers typing in, page by page, classics from Shakespeare to Stendhal; at the same time, a related project, Distributed Proofreading, deploys legions of copy editors to make sure the Gutenberg texts are correct. There are open source projects in law and religion. There's even an open source cookbook.As that Wired article states, "open source is doing for mass innovation what the assembly line did for mass production. Get ready for the era when collaboration replaces the corporation." One company, Gerlach Space Systems (anyone knows if it is still active as of July 2006?), is planning on building an open source component to the drive to develop and settle space. This blog entry, as well as the PDF and PPT downloads in it, is very nice in explaining why open source is good.
I want to suggest that open source can present us with a third way between government-sponsored space programs and efforts by large corporate organizations. It can give smaller organizations and private efforts the tools to rapidly move development forward.That is not to say that private enterprise and governmental organizations are bad, and that we should totally abandon them. In fact, I believe that private enterprise and government institutions will still be necessary, but that adding an open source component will greatly aid in the development of the space frontier. How do we define "open source"?
And what makes "open source" so effective?
Now, the definition of open source continues to evolve, but at its core is this notion of commons-based method of peer production (which sounds like a mouth full). Basically, all it means is that you have a collaborative group, a group of peers, working together for a common purpose around a shared body of intellectual property. That body of intellectual property is the commons. There are a number of different definitions: the notion that it is a form of decentralized production in which an information commons is collaboratively built, maintained and evolved. The commons forms the primary, but not necessarily exclusive, basis of value from which individuals and firms can draw and to which they can contribute.
Over time, open source has evolved to encompass more. A broader definition developed by Eric Raymond who is one of the fathers of the open source movement describes it as a process of systematically harnessing open development and decentralized peer review to lower costs and improve software quality. This can more broadly be applied to improve product or service quality in general.And a very broad definition developed by Larry Augustin, one of the most successful Linux entrepreneurs, is that open source is a way of doing business in which a firm enlists its customers in a constant feedback loop designed to improve its product. I would suggest that it is not only customers, but all of the stakeholders in the activity, including customers and partners who are all enlisted in this constant feedback loop.
It enables experimentation that doesn’t otherwise take place. It provides a vast resource of inexpensive capabilities to try new ideas. It encourages experimentation because of the parallel paths that can be taken and the parallel approaches. It encourages innovation. It has a very different set of economics from traditional corporate processes. It encourages individuals and groups to explore things that would otherwise not be explored. It actually encourages an extraordinary degree of competition. Because you don’t have the barriers of intellectual property rights and secrecy to help ensure that competition is held in check. There is actually a tremendous level of competition that does not otherwise take place. It is disruptive. It enables the development and exploitation of disruptive approaches and technologies. It is inherently disruptive of traditional development and production processes. It creates real options, by maximizing the range of options available to developers and end users. It creates option value. It ensures responsiveness, because if you have a problem it encourages you to go out and fix it. It provides mechanisms for feedback and for adaptation and changes that do not exist in traditional commercial operations. Quality: by having so many people focused on identifying and fixing problems and by having process transparency, you can achieve levels of quality that are otherwise impossible to achieve. And then, this value of democratization provides inexpensive resources and structures for experimentation. Democratization is a value that is inherent in itself but it is also a value that creates additional value for the larger group of contributors and society that cannot otherwise be obtained.People are often amazed that Linux, Apache, and other very good software products are open source. If you have used both Windows and Linux, then you might've been surprised at how stable Linux is and at how good many of the Linux software products are. The Windows XP operating system cost millions upon millions of dollars to develop. Yet, with all of the resources spent developing the OS, it is still ridden with bugs and security holes. And on top of that, it will set you back about a few hundred dollars. Other software, such as MS Office, and Adobe Photoshop operate in the same way. The odd thing is that a very, very few of software products actually turn up a profit. But you can get very decent open source alternatives to nearly every proprietary software product for free, or (at worst) for a very low cost. It didn't cost much money to develop Linux, OpenOffice, nor The GIMP. And these products are all free to download, share, use, and to improve on. Perhaps, one of the greatest myths is that people will refuse to do anything productive if they don't get paid for it. Many people won't. But the success of open source projects, as well as most people who do anything that might be considered creative, are willing to do so. After all, many people do things like this simply because is it something they like to do, a process that Oekonux founder Stefen Merten calls "self unfolding." But what does this have to do with, say, settling space?
There are those who argue that open source as a new mode of production is underpinning the birth of a new kind of economy. If you think about the challenges that we face as we struggle with the baggage of the industrial economy, traditional, integrated business models in many industries are breaking down because of their inability to adequately meet the needs of individuals, their inability to economically scale their customized processes, and their inability to capture more than incremental gains from the adoption of technology. An open source economy may be the ultimate response to many of the limitations of traditional industrial business models, as growing numbers of individuals and organizations seek to leverage the power of modern computing and telecommunications technologies to find new approaches to producing innovative products and services.
By building an open source space program, we can build around the blockages that have limited private space development to date. It leverages advanced telecommunications and computing capabilities to bring together hundreds and even thousands of expert contributors on a global scale. It opens design processes and intellectual property for use and enhancement by all of the participants. It enables innovation and widespread participation in private space development efforts. Ideally, it gains the participation of the major government and corporate organizations in the space sector, such as NASA, ESA, Boeing and so forth.Picture that on the Internet, you had thousands of engineers around the world designing the space craft, the space station, or the Lunar base. Because this process would be "self-unfolding", many who are enthusiastic about space and engineering would do engineering work on the project. This would also facilitate the development of state-of-the-art software to aid in the design and virtual testing of space craft designs (such as Open SESSAME). With a developed database of free space craft designs, there would always be cutting edge technology that companies, governments, or other types of organizations (or even individuals) can choose from in developing their space ship. Or imagine if NASA open sourced the Space Shuttle. If this happened, then many people around the world could design improvements to the shuttle, providing a vehicle built using 1970s technology with state of the art technlogy, and perhaps even redesigning the Shuttle to leave the External Tank in orbit to further help in the development of space.