Open Letter: Everything, A Bridge
I somehow managed to find myself in a conversation with some folk on Rachel Elnaugh’s Facebook feed. The context was that Rachel had someone renege on an agreement, as they worked using her brand and didn’t return either cash or attribute the benefit to her. You can find the full story if you want to.
This sparked a spin off discussion after a comment I made, on the concept of people only valuing what they pay for. I commented to Ben Hunt, founder of the Open Source Marketing project that people only value what they pay for (only fair that I give it a mention, since it’s not a bad one to look at in any event).
The response I was going write turned out a little long, and I wanted to link to wikis and research in this area if folk needed it. So I put it up here.
The Open Letter
Like yourself, I’ve contributed to the open source community in some form for about 20 years (before the funky name). The one categorical thing about it is you do it for the passion or you do it for the exposure, you don’t do it for the money (because directly, there is none). The exposure helps get the money later. The ‘currency’ in these ‘trades’ is non-monetary and there is also nothing to stop people trading in favours. Indeed, the tax man even acknowledges the existence of payment in kind by forming rules to tax you on it (not just as an employee).
Having done it for the passion and deliberately underexposed myself (introverts always do) nearly no record of lots of my early stuff exists now, yet the effect of it is seen in the work of others, who possibly don’t attribute because they fear it harming their livelihood or more likely, many don’t realise when and where they should (the classic misunderstanding with OSS, is the licensing models used with OSS).
The problem is that every individual (indeed, every ‘thing’) is conceptually a ‘bridge’ between value systems. A bridge between food and tending land; food and the financial system; Parents are bridges between wallets and small happy faces etc. etc. each thing offsets another thing. So humans, even OSS contributors, have to pay the bills somehow. The bills will keep coming and they have to be paid, because you are ‘half’ in that bridge.
If one contributes based on the word of someone else (which let’s not forget includes legal misrepresentation anyway) and they don’t receive anything in return, this does not help them act as the bridge to any other value system. Basically, no money, means you can’t pay the bills, incurring some loss, which will relentlessly keep coming anyway. This means you’re not meeting your financial hurdle rate each month.
This has a long term effect on the individual who contributed or started the movement, since they earn nothing from it, yet they have to pay the bills and it takes time away from tasks which do pay the bills. That you address in acknowledging ‘eating a providers time’, so no disagreement there. Hence, unless they go into it with the intent to guard it fiercely, which of course, means eventually nobody uses it because of the highly proprietary nature, they can’t protect their livelihood, nor provide for them and their family using that particular means. If they do make money from it, by ‘monetising’ or creating some enterprise or professional version of their offering, which they charge for, then there was ultimately to bridge into that other [financial] value system.
I am sure we, Rachel included, have seen our fair share of ‘crackpot’ ideas, which we perceive as having no ultimate purpose, yet are seen by the inventor as the best thing since sliced bread. So to value it, we have to use a mechanism that both parties in such value trades are most likely to understand. That is money. That is the unit of measure pretty much everyone in the world understands. Indeed, there are many more people in the world who understand it, than understand love.
Indeed, the monetary value ascribing real value is backed up by both psychological and economic behaviourists and fits neatly into a space of the ‘endowment effect’ and ‘willingness to pay’ (which in your field you should be familiar with, since the gap between WTP and WTA has empirically been shown up to some 10 orders of magnitude). These also include mathematical models that underpin the very essence of the economies we use to trade or market in.
On the point of the book, a system of ‘free’ in a context that is not, cannot exist in isolation. As soon as it’s there, many people want it, since it satisfies their other value system needs, especially where the WTA to WTP gap is high (WTA, as a zero cost to accept versus pay, means nearly everyone will go for it). This includes both WordPress and indeed, the open source marketing project. I believe your Open Source Marketing project nobly tries to do so, but if there is no ultimate need by someone along the chain to satisfy a value bridge somewhere by using that service or a derivative service, why does it exist? It’s impossible for free to exist in isolation. Nature is free and has a commercial species in it (sadly or otherwise).