When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

08 March 2009

Can we build a world with open source?

Victor Keegan, writing in The Guardian (UK):

Vinay Gupta is a Scottish-Indian engineer who designs low-cost homes for poor parts of the world or disaster zones, and then makes them freely available on the internet so others can do the building. His flagship is the Hexayurt shelter system, which costs around $200 (£142). It uses common building materials, including insulation boards - which, he claims, are a third of the cost of a tent. The business plan is to cut the price of essential goods and services to the point where the poor can afford them. Gupta is just one example of a global movement that offers an alternative to the scandalous tales of banking avarice that have saturated the world's media.

We are often told that the best things in life are free, but few have ever tried to build it into a business model. Yet it is curious that while financial capitalism is in global meltdown, a completely different kind of entrepreneurial activity - call it commune-ism - is rising, from an admittedly low base. This is the act of doing things for the common good, for nothing - either from altruistic motives or because you expect to get compensated by using the product of someone else's free endeavours. Until recently, this kind of activity - known generically as "open source" - has been confined to software through such brilliant communal projects as Wikipedia, the Firefox browser (which now has 21.5% of the global market) or the Linux operating system. Interestingly, such products don't appear in the figures for gross domestic product (GDP) - at least, not until they are used in something that can be bought, such as a low-cost Linux computer. It is unrecorded wealth and if the movement grows we will have to look afresh at how we measure the wealth of nations.

Can we build a world with open source? (Victor Keegan, The Guardian)


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