One of the first rules that entrepreneurs learn is that investors don't like revolutionary new ideas. Even when they work, the reasoning goes, they won't make you any money. Instead, investors want to see "innovative" ideas: ideas that push the existing envelope a little further, but don't totally change the map. With free culture projects, however, the situation is precisely inverted: people don't get as excited about contributing to merely "innovative" projects, they want to make "revolutionary" change in the world. High ambitions attract good company, and free licensed projects will do better not to set their sights too low.
There is no "magic" to commons-based peer production. Most of the techniques that have brought free culture products ranging from software to art to electronic hardware have been in play for hundreds or thousands of years. But they do run counter to the patterns of commercial proprietary industry. Due to the massive improvements in communications and authoring technology, we have reached a point where we can be more productive in our "leisure" than we are in our "work". And any labor of love is almost always going to be superior to labor alone.
A constant pattern in the corporate environment is the gathering of resources, but with the free exchange of information inherent in commons-based projects, the pattern of choice is the dispersal of resources. This presents certain design challenges, which manifest themselves in the Unix-style "small sharp tools" approach to specialization; encourage "bottom-up design"; and most importantly require easy-to-obtain, shared, free standards for data interchange between programs. When every train car is to be made by a separate builder, it is essential that the rail gauge is constant and known.
Achieving Impossible Things with Free Culture and Commons-Based Enterprise
The first completed book from Free Software Magazine Press, by longtime Free Software Magazine columnist Terry Hancock is now available!