Massive Peer to Peer Collaboration

I have been asked by Philippe Honigman to answer 2 questions about open source collaboration to help him on one of his projects.

I was wondering what could be the questions not already answered thousands of times. This curiosity led me to an interesting conversation, with interesting insights I would like to share with you.

First question: What’s the hardest part about rewarding a community supporting an open source project?

There’s a lot of different motivations and rewards you can find contributing to an open source project. The first one could be the product or service you are contributing to. The motivation and satisfaction to contribute to a greater good. The fact that collaboration with others, will improve the quality and security of the product.

There’s also a lot of learning opportunities. Because the code base is public (in case of software development) you can learn how the others are solving problems when you review the code, you can also benefit from the reviews of others. All this could also lead to interesting employment opportunities.

Some people will work hard to increase their reputation, to gain status or authority on a project.

So, the hardest part about rewarding the community supporting an open source software could be first to understand the motivations of the contributors and to adapt the reward to the motivation.

Second question: What’s the hardest part about making decisions in open source project?

The question around decision is an interesting and also a tough one. Some of the mechanisms are really collaborative and we can say that the best ideas win. But sometimes, decisions based on authority gained in the past seem irrelevant, or even totally ego-driven

The organization of some open source project are quite traditional and hierarchical with board, technical committee, and a hierarchy for sub-projects. Even if the people are co-opted or elected by their peers  to gain authority and status, it is still a hierarchical structure.

Hierarchies emerge because of our limited understanding of decision-making processes. We are looking for someone who will ultimately “take” a decision.

In some organization where there’s no arbitration mechanism, nobody to decide, people tend to become more reasonable and start making decision and avoid letting their ego undermine the collective effort. Those people have learned how to make it happen.

We continue the conversation about different kind of organizations and decision making process. And then, we came back to the first question… I (intentionally) forgot to speak about money and value sharing because I don’t really have a solution to propose that really satisfies me… People that contribute to open source project are often  employed by a company that needs the product / service, and when they are not, some of them are looking for an employment opportunity… For the others, some of them have another source of revenue, and are OK with the other rewards.

That’s the aha moment when Philippe explained me the ideas they had, to tackle the reward questions for contributions and to be able to distribute the decisions avoiding the effect to have a concentrated power in the center.

They want to use the powerful blockchain technology popularized by the bitcoin experiment. I’m saying “experiment” because the Bitcoin is a particular application of the blockchain technology.

This short video can give you a little overview of what blockchain is about:

 

If we use the blockchain technology to create distributed services, we can create a car sharing service with no centralized control, like LaZooz. So the people who are sharing the goods / services are doing well and it benefits to the community of people involved instead of being confiscated by a platform like uber, airbnb, blablacar…

We can imagine to use the blockchain technology to facilitate the decisions making process in an open source project and to reward the contributors according to the value of the contribution and the risk they are taking when they join a project at an early stage for example. More on those ideas, if you look at http://backfeed.cc/ and https://www.ethereum.org/

 

Lessons (re)learned:

  • Don’t tell them, ask them. If you want people to give some interest to your idea, it’s probably a good idea to ask them some questions that will help them to be aware of the problem you are trying to solve.
  • Raise the awareness on motivation and their difference between people is an important piece to start working with a team, I will reuse my trello board to use the moving motivators with a distributed team.
  • Open your mind…

Comment and share this article if you like the reading 🙂

 

Header photo by Tim Swaan