Open Source as a Social Principle

Felix Stalder
Abstract of a talk, Novi Sad, YU, July 30, 2003

The development of Open Source Software has shown that the innovative potential of the Internet is indeed substantial. However, this innovation does not take place in a void. Rather, it combines and updates many ideas that are not connected to the Internet at all, some of them substantially older than the Internet, or even computers. Concepts such as "peer-review" have a long tradition in academia and open modes of social development have been contrasted to closed models at least since Karl Popper published is famous critique of totalitarianism at the end of World War II.

Open Source Software contains powerful arguments how to make these notions, central to a democratic society, relevant in a technology-dominated era.

Beyond the immediate realm of software, the Open Source Movement revived another very old idea: the commons. The commons is a resource jointly managed by a more or less strictly defined community, rather than owned by individual actors. It was long regarded as pre-modern social arrangement, but the Open Source movement has shown that it can form an adequate basis for the development of some of the most sophisticated informational products as well. Starting from this experience, the idea of the commons is being updated. It is becoming the basis for an alternative knowledge order in the emergent Information Society, engendering a vision that is based on free access to the raw materials of knowledge production.

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