For many years, I’ve looked at open source as the start of a new economy, a way of life, not just a model for software development. My Masters thesis looked at online communities who were volunteering their time to collaborate with like-minded people to create a better version of something that would otherwise be a commercial product.
Doubters among my colleagues and friends ask why it would happen now when it hasn’t worked in the past. To me, the answer is clearly that the foundations hadn’t been set. This is not simple philanthropy where one’s donation (usually money) benefits unknown people on the other side of the world – the donors benefit directly from others who add their complementary skills to their own. This is not communism, driven from the top down. It must be driven by the masses, and until now, the masses haven’t had the time or the tools. Nor were experts from around the world as able to easily connect and share ideas.
Despite the efforts of groups like OSCar, my vision still had limited application to physical products. It worked for software, and it could work for governance, but you still need specialised components to build a car.
Alastair Parvin, in his TED talk, Architecture for the people by the people, has shown me that we’re a step closer. The 3D printer now makes it possible for people to create the components they need even to build a house.
Where do you see this trend going next? Is an open source economy possible? What problems must be overcome? Some believe that the power-hungry few will sabotage such an economy. I worry that the raw materials used by the printer may still be inaccessible or detrimental to the environment, but I’m also confident that the right minds collaborating can find a solution to that problem.