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An Avalanche of Change

Moshe Yudkowsky Posted by Moshe Yudkowsky, Techology and Innovation Consultant, Disaggregate Corporation.

Dr. Yudkowsky has 20 years' experience in high-technology & is a recognized expert in speech technology.  He's president of Disaggregate, a consulting company that helps create, understand, & apply revolutionary technology.


An Avalanche of Change

dahu1, Creative Commons CC-by-sa

Bear with me a moment. Although what I’m talking about sounds very geeky, there’s an important lesson to be learned.

You know how frustrated you get when your software doesn’t work? Well, it’s even more frustrating for me, because I know a lot about software and given half a chance I could fix it myself. And that’s lucky for me, because while all the software I use is top-notch, at the same time I have access to the source code of the software-all the secrets of the software, neatly laid out so that I can fiddle with it if I want to. In fact, if I want to, I can improve it and resell it. And most of the software is completely free of charge.

Top quality software at no charge? Software that I can change when it doesn’t work the way I want it to? Software that I can modify and resell? Most of the Internet runs on this kind of software, and it’s started an avalanche of change that has swept aside many of the old ways of creating software. How can this possibly work?

Twenty years ago, a group of extremely talented software engineers were faced with a quandary: They loved to write software and share their work, but the evolving corporate model stifled their creativity by imposing severe restrictions on sharing-secrecy, patents, and licenses. They responded with a fascinating and radical innovation, “open source” software. Members of the open source movement make their source code-the fundamental building blocks of the software-“open” for anyone to read, copy, modify, and (sometimes) resell. They’ve broken apart-disaggregated-many traditional aspects of ownership, surrendering them to the public at large.

What’s the result of making source code open? Disaggregation of ownership is based on sharing, and the consequence of sharing is more sharing. Let’s say I want an error fixed or an improvement made. I don’t just complain; I try to do it myself. And because disaggregated ownership creates a community, I feel responsible to the community. I release my fixes and improvements to everyone else, and thousands of other professionals do the same. This constant stream of community improvements makes open source software extremely reliable, highly secure from viruses, and very useful; the famous Linux project literally has hundreds of thousands of talented developers.

So the result of this radical sharing is… even more sharing. Engineers love to tinker and make improvements, and disaggregating ownership removes the barriers that prevent them from contributing. Disaggregation’s benefits are enormous: creative software, synergy between different software projects, specialized software…The list goes on.

Tips

  • Examine the traditional notions of what you must own-both material things and processes-and what ownership means.
  • Sharing begets sharing. Disaggregate ownership and let others contribute.
  • Transform your customers into a community and they will surprise you with their willingness to contribute.

Dr. Moshe Yudkowsky is president of Disaggregate, a company that creates technological change. Moshe is author of The Pebble and the Avalanche