You know, I’ve really had trouble figuring out Nick Carr. I’m a confirmed subscriber, because a lot of his writing is excellent; but then, some of it seems to come from troll territory. I have a theory; and some words on Open Source. [Update: Carr responds at length.]
The Good and the Bad · He regularly writes thoughtful, penetrating pieces, for example on the online ad market or Hypermediation or IT economics; carefully argued and thought-provoking even where I’m unconvinced.
On the other hand, he also fires broadsides that feel at best half-baked, about how businesses shouldn’t allow blogging and Wikipedia is lame and Open Source isn’t about communities any more.
The Explanation · I think I see a theme: Carr seems to be arguing that there’s nothing new in the world. Blogging? Let’s have some old-fashioned discipline. Wikipedia? Open Source? Conventional command and control, move right along, nothing new to see here. Obviously, I disagree: The steady migration of knowledge onto the Net is a new thing, qualitatively. And, in the last few years, the phenomenon of millions of people becoming contributors, not just consumers, is a big deal and I don’t think anyone really understands it.
Open Source · Anyhow, the reason I started writing this was to push back on Carr’s recent Open Source as a metaphor, which builds from the observation that successful OSS projects attract financial support and have formal governance, proceeding to the familiar “Nothing really new here” conclusion. I think Carr’s problem is that he doesn’t actually see Open-Source people in their natural habitats; he was at OSBC but not OSCON. The practice of OSS software has two drivers that matter: the community of peers, and the urge to scratch a technical itch. If you don’t understand that, you’ll never understand anything important about OSS. I’ve been sitting in front of this excellent Ubuntu box for a week now, and I look at the digicam framework and chat client and text editor and package manager and photo editor and literally hundreds of other offerings that make this thing go, and I shake my head in wonder at the notion that anyone could see this as a product of Business As Usual.