The Ignorance of Crowds

Intellectual Property and Open Source

Article Snapshot


Nicholas Carr


Strategy + Business, Issue 47, pp. 37-43, Summer 2007


This article analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of group production through the open source model of programming.

Policy Relevance

As business entities attempt to increase innovation and production, it may be beneficial to look towards the “open source” model for inspiration. Such a model can produce extremely efficient results in limited areas, such as debugging, but is weak in areas requiring controlled structure and individual direction.

Main Points

  • On May 22, 1997, Eric Raymond presented his seminal paper “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,” which described the open source software movement. His paper touted the potential benefits of using a large and informal community of volunteers to create software.
  • In the time that has passed since Raymond’s paper was published, multiple examples of open source work have been created.
    • Linux, which was the example used in Raymond’s paper, still exists as the preeminent example of open source software. Linux is an operating system with open programming that can be accessed, modified, and improved by any user.
    • Wikipedia is an example of non-software use of peer production, and is the well-known online encyclopedia with expansive scope and a tremendous user base.
  • The large, and inexpensive, workforce that participates in these kinds of peer production efforts allows for creation with speed and efficiency that cannot be matched by private industry. Where this kind of group effort is most effective is in situations where individual segments of work can be tackled independently with little or no guidance, such as debugging or creating wiki-entries.
  • Peer production also has distinct limitations. Few major innovative breakthroughs have happened via open source programing, and private companies have maintained their superiority in delivering consumer ready software that progresses development.
  • In order for companies to achieve the benefits of both private and peer production, the two systems must be combined. In this way, large projects can allow individual innovation and direct oversight while still parsing off limited aspects of the work to the open source market.
  • Open source development should not be viewed as a replacement for the lone software development teams of the past. Instead, peer production should be viewed as a tool, useful in some circumstances, but in need of careful guidance to be productive.


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