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Dispatch from Wikimania: Wealth of networks and open source innovation

The first session today has been pleasant. Yochai Benkler and Rishab Ghosh are addressing different aspects of alternative, open production methods. Benkler highlighted some arguments from his new book, certainly preaching to the choir about the benefits of partipatory culture and content production. Without having read the book, I'm not sure that Benkler is breaking much new ground here, but he has done an excellent job of synthesizing a lot of the discussion currents in the FLOSS community.

Ghosh presented an interesting argument for open source production methods. I especially liked his intro -- a discussion of James Watt and the implications of the patent on his steam engine. In the late 18th century, Watt patented his new steam engine, and successfull lobbied for a long patent extension. He did well financially. But when the patent finally expired 1811, steam engine construction became "open source," as new designs were published and shared in journals. After a few years during which Watt's former competitives profited simply by not paying license fees, there was a sudden explosion of steam engine innovaion. The power of the engines increased exponentially, and became powerful enough to drive railroads and the massive machines of the Industrial Age.

I'm inspired. Maybe my novel will be set in this era, with the warring steam scientists as protagonists...

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