A value beyond monetization

Story: Firefox Extensions Say it AllTotal Replies: 0
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Feb 03, 2006
7:52 PM EDT
Thanks Tom for pointing out the underlying value system of FLOSS. What makes FLOSS work isn't so much that efforts (products) are cost free, although that goes a long way towards initiating mass participation and use. It's that FLOSS is a vast exchange system where value is routinely traded, in exchange for participation and effort.

I continue to be surprised that people are unable to connect the participation value of FLOSS with the monetized values we have become so accustomed to. Many are able to ask the question, “If you tried to create Linux for the purpose of selling an operating system for profit, what would it cost?” They then turn to the estimated cost of alternatives like Windows, OSX, or Solaris, and come up with some guesstimation of the extraordinary monetary value of Linux. What throws them off course is trying to answer the question of how this incredible value came to be? What possessed all these engineers and users to participate and contribute without monetary return?

You have to love Doc Searls' comment, “FLOSS is where the demand side has taken over their own supply.”

The value FLOSS participants derive from their collaborative participation could be measured in money, as you point out in your Mozilla story. The thing is, FLOSS works fine without the need to exchange value as monetized increments. But make no mistake, as you point out so well, “value” is exchanged. It's just not monetized. Nor is there a pressing need to perfect a conversion of value to a monetary currency. It may happen, but it's not a make or break proposition to FLOSS. With a proprietary for profit software vendor though, monetization to nth degree is basic. A vendor without profit ceases to exist.

So what kills FLOSS? Lack of participation i think. Which could be due to any number of reasons stretching from a stiff decision making – contribution structure designed to thwart open participation, to a lousy non inter operable systems design. I'm confronted with the notion that “monetization” of collaborative participation, the kind that adds so much value to FireFox, is itself a participation killer. A destroyer of value as well as the exchange of value if you will.

So it's not just that FLOSS efforts have a value that could be converted into monetary increments. It's also that monetization itself compromises, impedes, and in many ways destroys the core value of participation. Meaning you could never hope to establish the value FireFox is capable of generating if you are organized around a profit model like that of Microsoft. The important point being that Microsoft is organized to control participation, even to the point of blocking it entirely if their profit seeking designs are not achieved first and foremost.

The famed business philosopher and profit guru Peter Drucker once said that, “Corporations are the premier vehicle of efficiently organizing people, resources, and finance for the purposes of profit”.

In this view, which is noticeable absent any moral, ethical or legal values, Microsoft has to be seen as a champion.

We might ask the question of what is the premier vehicle of efficiently organizing people, resources and finance for the purposes of participation? Participation seeming to be the currency of value being traded over Open Internet, where the complexities of an emerging digital civilization are largely sorted out and implemented by collaborative communities of one sort or another. Sometimes these communities are Open Standards groups. Other times it's just herds of users and developers tagging an innovative and willing host as a good place to homestead. Hard to miss the impact of FLOSS though. Everywhere you look in this the age of collaborative computing, where the currency of participation is the base value upon which all other evaluations are set – including profitable monetary efforts - FLOSS increasingly plays a more important role.

The Open Internet is often described as being “owned by none, used by all”. It's the ultimate shared resource. The first globally “owned” public utility if you will - in the sense of a shared public commons.

There is no doubt in my mind that digital titans like Chairman Bill and the hated Telcos lie awake at night trying to figure out how to seize and monetize the Open Internet. It seems to me that one of the problems digital titans face when seeking to become digital emperors through the assertion of ownership and control of key Open Internet access and exchange check points, is that every effort tends to compromise the fundamental organizing principles of the Open Internet. Compromise participation in any way, and the value of whatever checkpoint you've attempted to seize dissipates.

Why? Maybe because the Open Internet was conceived with the failsafe notion of being able to route around any barrier, blockade, or sudden vacancy. Think nuclear attack. Somehow this design principle has become part of how the hidden hand of the Open Internet organizes and governs that most critical value factor; participation.

Recently a friend of mine asked me about the sudden fall in Google's stock price, precipitated by their acquiescence to the freedom compromising demands of international socialist in control of China. For sure it looks as though Google has violated the public trust so important to their success.

I told her to buy Google because i thought they would learn from this event. The lesson here is not that the stock market values “freedom”, or is somehow driven by droves of freedom fighters demanding world justice and personal liberty. Far from it. It's more likely that the market intuitively understands the unique contract Goggle has with the Open Internet, and the participation flows traversing the great global infogrid. Participation flows that can make or break a service provider.

Dealing with thugs to barter away “participation” with Open Internet information and collaborative computing communities, in exchange for “access”, is a contract breaker.

It's interesting to note that no one blinked an eye when Microsoft made the same deal with the international socialists in Beijing. Just the opposite. For Microsoft this deal enhanced the companies market evaluation.

So what happened? Why is there this incredible difference between how the market views Microsoft, and how the market views Google? Same deal. Different companies.

Just a guess, but i think it comes down to a simple observation. Google takes advantage of the Open Internet by working it's core values of open access, unencumbered exchange, and global participation. Microsoft works against those very same values. They make their money off of command and control of any and all aspects of “access” and “participation”. The deal with China fits nicely into their business model.

The Google charter is to “organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful”. This is an incredible statement that goes to the value of participation through an Open Internet. The more open and accessible the Open Internet, the more important the offer of Google computational power, participation interfaces, and information organizational services becomes. Any compromise of access and participation – even the trade off that marks the deal with Beijing, is a compromise to the value Google provides.

In these terms, the deal with China is a killer. Google deserved the market hit and more.

I think the salient point however is that there is an enormity of difference between the traditions of how corporations are organized for profit, and how the digital civilization sprawling across the Open Internet is organized for participation.

Under the traditional corporate model, you organize people , resources, and finances to produce a product that you then market and sell for profit.

Under the organizing principles of the Open Internet, first you service the needs of participation. Then you profit from those participation flows in ways that continue to maximize and take advantage of the flows. Make a mistake, try to monetize the participation instead of services around it, and the herds simply route around you. The herds of participation don't buy restrictions. They buy services that further advantage their participation.

Monetize at the wrong point of interaction, and you might as well declare yourself to be dangerously radioactive. It's brutal to those who don't get it. It's a wonder beyond compare to those that do. Maybe it's even a value simply beyond monetization.

Thanks for the article Tom. Well done. I dig it! ~ge~

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