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open content

Surman on Philanthrocapitalism

Marc has recently done a great essay called Philanthropy on the Commons. Quoting part of the article:

The funny thing is, Michael Edwards seems to think that the commons and business are at odds. “The problem is that these approaches are absent from the philanthrocapitalist menu”, he says. The facts say otherwise. Who are the top funders of Wikipedia? Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla and Richard Branson’s Virgin Unite. Who funds the creative commons? Sun, Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, Yahoo, Facebook as well as a number of foundations created with newly minted high-tech wealth. The commons is clearly on the philanthrocapitalist menu.

More importantly: collaborative, non-market peer-production was born from a world that lives on the fuzzy edge between public and private benefit. In his 1999 essay “”The Magic Cauldron”, Eric S Raymond offered a taxonomy of open- source business models that still left the code in the commons: cost-sharing; giving away things that have use value but no sale value; selling technical support or services. His point was this: business and the commons are not only compatible but, in many cases, actually interdependent.

Yes, business and the commons are actually interdependent.

Everyone loves the peer-production model of Wikipedia and its sister projects, which are generally held up as a model of purity, set apart from business models that involve “money.” But it shouldn’t surprise you at all to see that the “Costs of providing the Organization’s various projects” were over $2,000,000 USD for fiscal 2006-2007, including the $400k they spent on hosting (Wikimedia Financials). $2,000,000 is serious cash… Just showing that the more successful an open project is, the more it will cost to host manage and run ($2M/year for Wikipedia, the project ‘run entirely by volunteers’), and the more critical a partnership with the business world becomes for successful open projects.

Of course, if you want to have a small-scale, low impact open project, no partnership with the business world is necessary.

It’s this interdependency between business and the commons that we’re exploring with Flat World Knowledge. And Stephen completely misses the point when he comments:

I guess that when you were arguing in front of all those international bodies that open content ought to be commercializable, I should have known that all the while you were setting up in stealth mode a commercial operation to use just this sort of content.

FWK isn’t a commercial operation to use someone else’s existing open content. We’re a commercial operation to produce, share, and use our own open content. Because we want to have a large, ongoing, sustainable impact around the world, we understand the importance of having a business model that will actually let us do that. When other projects’ grant funding or government support has run out and they’ve closed the doors, we’ll still be producing and sharing open content for a long, long time.