When I hear people in the technology industry talk about the benefits of open source software, one of things they mention often is their belief that open source software “gets better faster” than traditional software (David Wheeler has done a nice job collecting many of the proof points around the benefits of open source software here). While the speed of innovation in open source is in part due to the power of Linus’s Law (“Given enough eyes, all bugs are shallow”), I believe it also has a lot to do with the way open source projects are managed.
Many of the characteristics of this open source management style apply well beyond making software, and I’m always looking for examples showcasing this in action. A few weeks ago, I wrote briefly about the story in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink about (now retired) US General Paul Van Riper.
Gladwell tells the story of how, in an enormous military war game called the Millennium Challenge in 2002, Van Riper took command of the Red Team, playing the role of a rogue commander who broke away from the government of his Persian Gulf country and threatened US forces (the Blue Team). Rather than following standard military management protocol, Van Riper managed his team according to a philosophy he called “in command and out of control.” From the book:
By that, I mean that the overall guidance and the intent were provided by me and the senior leadership, but the forces in the field wouldn’t depend on intricate orders coming from the top. They were to use their own initiative and be innovative as they went forward.
Traditional media companies are in big trouble. You may have noticed. You know who else has noticed? David Pakman, currently a partner at the prestigious Venrock venture capital firm. You may also know David as the former CEO of eMusic—a fairly disruptive media company in its own right. David has over 300,000 Twitter followers and regularly blogs here about the “undoing of big media.”
1. One of the beautiful things about the open source software revolution is it lowered the barrier to entry for developers who wanted to create useful software. Meaning, without going to fancy schools or working for big Silicon Valley tech companies, people in any part of the world with any level of experience could contribute, and if their code was good, they were in. Is the barrier to entry for artists trying to make it in the music industry getting lower too? It sure doesn’t feel like it sometimes.
I think the barrier to entry to write or make music has always been pretty low. Provided you can learn how to play an instrument, you can write songs. The encroachment of technology into every facet of music making has lowered this barrier even further. An entire album can be recorded at great quality in a basement with a Mac and some bundled software. DJ equipment isn’t even needed anymore — you can do it all on your Mac.
The challenges have always been around marketing and distribution, and the internet changed all that. Anyone can launch a site or a myspace page and offer downloads of their music. In 2008, more than 38,000 new records were released. This was the most ever.
Becoming commercially successful by selling music or touring has never been harder, and that is because fewer people are buying music and consumers have more entertainment choices than ever before. So while it’s easier to make music, it’s harder to make a living making music.
[read the rest of this post on opensource.com]