this: in just a few short years, the open-source encyclopedia
Wikipedia has made closed-source encyclopedias obsolete — both the
hard-bound kind and the CD-ROM or commercial online kind. Goodbye
World Book and Brittanica.
these companies still exist, but their customer base is rapidly
shrinking as more and more people would rather go with Wikipedia —
it’s free, it’s easy to use, and it’s much, much more
is but one example of how the concept of open source has changed our
lives already. Over
the next 10 years or so, we’ll be seeing many more examples, and
the effects could change just about every aspect of our lives.
open-source concept was popularized through GNU and GPL,
and it has spread ever since, in an increasingly rapid manner. The
open-source OS, Linux, has been growing in users exponentially over
the last few years, and while it still has a ways to go before it can
challenge Microsoft or Apple, it has become a viable and even
desirable alternative for many.
alternatives have been growing in number and breadth: from office
software to financial software to web and desktop utilities to games,
just about any software you can think of has an open-source
alternative. And in many cases, the open-source version is better.
consider this: the open-source concept doesn’t have to just apply
It can apply to anything in life, any area where information is
currently in the hands of few instead of many, any area where a few
people control the production and distribution and improvement of a
product or service or entity.
the following examples are going to sound idealistic, and they are,
but they are possibilities that could turn into probabilities in the
next few year, or the next 10-20 years. Only time will tell, but it’s
worth thinking about.
Currently, knowledge and the teaching of that knowledge is in the
hands of a few, from elementary to high schools to higher education.
But why do we need to go through the public or private school
system, and why does Harvard and Stanford and MIT control the
education of our professionals and academics? Homeschooling, for
example, is a growing movement that allows parents to regain control
of their child’s education, to move away from an authoritarian
setting of mind control and towards one of learning, of questioning,
of critical thinking — and that’s really what education should
be. Please understand that I’m not blaming the teachers — they
are good people with good intentions, but they are bound by the
school system, which is really controlled by our government. The
open-source concept can be applied to higher education: imagine an
online school for programmers or accountants or businesspeople,
where the real professionals decide the curriculum and teach the
classes and give out the certificates. If this alternative grows in
acceptance (and this will take a long time to happen), there is no
reason why a Harvard business degree would be better than an
open-source one, which would also be much less expensive.
Our governments are controlled by a relatively small number of
people (the politicians and technocrats), who control many aspects
of our lives, from taxes and government spending to regulation of
the Internet and commerce. But imagine that open-source alternatives
for these functions, perhaps one at a time, are created and grow in
acceptance. This may be difficult to imagine, but the example of
schools given above are just one way this could happen. Email is
another example of how a government function can be co-opted, as the
postal system is less necessary than before — fewer people use the
postal system to write letters, and the days of getting bills in the
mail may soon be a thing of the past. Perhaps not every government
function can be co-opted (although it’s possible), but if enough
government services become obsolete because of better alternatives,
the justification of taxes becomes weaker. Open-source helping of
the poor, instead of government welfare. Open-source medical help,
instead of the government’s public health system. There are many
This will sound idealistic, but consider that the power of
corporations is their ability to control knowledge, and the
manufacture and distribution of products and services. If their
knowledge becomes free through alternatives — think corporate
media vs. blogs — then the corporations are no longer needed. Even
manufacturing could become decentralized if the patents on the
product become open-sourced.
movie, television, book, and magazine industries are currently
closed-source — with production and distribution of these
entertainment sources controlled by a relative few. Only a small
number of people release albums or movies or books, though there are
many other talented people out there. Approval for contracts of
these things are controlled by a small number of people. There are a
limited number of channels through which they can be distributed.
But consider an open-source alternative, where people collaborate on
music and release it to the public through the Internet. It’s
already happening on the Internet with the book and magazine
industries, as people can distribute free e-books or write blogs or
collaborate on cookbooks and how-to manuals. There’s no reason
such collaboration and free distribution couldn’t happen with
other entertainment, even if the production is a bit more difficult
This will seem like a stretch, but what is money? It’s a
closed-source system that says that in exchange for giving me your
product or service, I will give you a voucher that you can use
elsewhere to get products or services (or however you want to use
your voucher). An open-source alternative could be created, and as
long as people trust the system, there’s no reason it has to be
controlled by governments and couldn’t be used worldwide.
Most products or services on the Internet right now are
closed-sourced, including Google and Microsoft and Yahoo. That will
likely change as people start developing open-source alternatives to
these products and services. There are already a few out there, from
open-source email and search to the wiki alternatives of online
dictionaries, Internet directories, and so on.