Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Social Source Socialist?

Oh, how I love it when corporations make arguements that can be applied in different ways. In the fundraising software space, there is a debate about people filing business process patents for specific online fundraising methods. The most noise comes from software vendors that will lose business if a single vendor is the only one able to offer a specific business process.

One arguement against business process patents is:

Shouldn't technology enable us to do more and to do it more effectively? Restricting our use of fundraising tools limits the number of people we can engage, the volume of donations we will receive, and ultimately, the universe of people we can help.
So I gotta do it:

Shouldn't technology enable nonprofits to do more and to do it more effectively? Restricting nonprofit use of fundraising tools (through expensive proprietary software licenses) limits the number of people nonprofits can engage, the volume of donations nonprofits will receive, and ultimately, the universe of people nonprofits can help.

This is not an arguement to make things free (the social source ecosystem depends on customer revenue), just an arguement to radically reduce barriers to adoption. ;)

Saturday, July 16, 2005

A Social Source Ecosystem: Group Selection

In one of my early presentations on the potential of open source software for nonprofits, I had a slide called “Sounds like Socialism.” The slide tried to address a perception that a utopian view of sharing software and innovations simply couldn’t work. In our market-driven capitalist society, if you don't buy it, it can't be valuable.

The concept of group selection injects a decidedly cut-throat capitalism aspect into the concept of Social Source. The Institute for the Future notes,

“…groups work best when their members provide benefits to one another, but many of these prosocial behaviors do no survive through natural selection.” Individuals who effectively compete with other individuals succeed in evolution; those that cooperate are less successful.

How then do we conceive of a Social Source ecosystem? If it’s not one group of individuals and organizations sharing software in a utopian collaboration of nonprofits, what is it?

Group selection is the concept that individuals are not the only ones subject to natural selection—natural selection also operates at the group level—groups of individuals. Cooperation within a group can be a very important asset when competing against other groups.

This has implication for the Social Source ecosystem competing with the commercial software ecosystem, but also for the internal organization of the Social Source ecosystem.

Applying this to the Social Source ecosystem suggests there is no monolithic groups or single leader. Instead, some core principles (open source licenses) simply guide the entire system. Conflict and competition at a wider scale in the Social Source ecosystem will encourage local cooperation in order to compete in the wider group.

In the case of technology like CiviCRM, there is a strong incentive to support the creation of multiple donor database solutions, multiple volunteer management solutions, etc. The competition among those solutions will actually make those solutions stronger.

This leads both to competition among groups sharing volunteer management code for their specific solution, but also supports much broader cooperation as multiple volunteer management solutions share innovations at the CiviCRM level.

Things are getting curiouser and curiouser as I think through how a Social Source ecosystem might work.

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Social Source Symbiosis

The Institute for the Future's second concept for a new literacy of cooperation is symbiosis.

"...a mutually beneficial relationship that can evolve between different organism's in a system."
Symbiosis is not an instant thing, one doesn't issue a press release and announce a symbiotic relationship with customers, partners or vendors. Over time, reciprocal actions build relationships, yet reciprocity is a hard problem.

In a Social Source world, symbiosis is created with the winning strategy for a game of "tit for tat."
  1. Be nice - don't defect at the first opportunity.
  2. Retaliate - defect if others do.
  3. Forgive - switch to cooperation when your opponent does.
  4. Be clear - always react in the same way to your opponent's behavior.
In a Social Source world, you create open source software and share it with the world (be nice). If vendors and consultants choose to use the software without contributing back to the community, you withhold engineering support, priority bug fixes, and custom feature implementation (retaliate). When a vendor or consultant changes their minds and starts contributing back to the community, actively support their success (forgive). And all the while, communicate what a Social Source value system and ecosystem look like for others can behave as is expected (be clear).

Already, CiviCRM is becoming both endosymbiotic and exosymbiotic in the Social Source ecosystem. Endosymbiotic means one organism is literally inside of another. This is the relationship between CivicSpace and CiviCRM with CivicSpace's 0.8.2 release. Neither piece of software is entirely "whole" without the other.

CiviCRM is also exosymbiotic with content management systems like Drupal and Mambo. The pieces of software reciprocate (track a common set of users), but are seemingly distinct and can operate entirely separately. Ultimately, as CiviCRM becomes the basis for donor management, advocacy, and case management applications, a network of symbiotic relationships will evolve.

One interesting lesson from biology is that parasitism drives rapid evolution. In a Social Source ecosystem, not everyone needs to or even should cooperate and collaborate. Individuals and organizations that adopt software by "defecting" in the game of tit for tat by not contributing code and innovations back into to the community.

Friday, July 1, 2005

Social Source Sync

Synchrony: the process by which patterned behavior is created among many individuals without conscious control.
In a Social Source ecosystem there are a lot of actors: developers (building software), hosters (providing software as a service to customers), integrators (modifying software for customer needs), customers (using the software), etc.

Traditional proprietary software vendor models try to coordinate those actors under a single vendor. Developers have to use the SDK (software development kit) approved by the intellectual property owner. Hosters have to pay the intellectual property owner royalties. Integrators are only available from "partner programs" organized by the intellectual property owner. At least some portion of the customer spend to use the software goes to the intellectual property owner.

Even in the nonprofit sector this command and control model is prevalent.

The rational for this command and control model is that the resulting system has rules, standards and is predictable... if no one is in control, that would be too risky.

The concept of Synchrony challenges this analysis. If you have a system of actors that is communicating and engaging in some type of rhythmic give and take, those actors will, over time sync up with one another.

In a Social Source world, software developers, integrators, hosters and customers all communicate with one another, ask one another to meet their need, and contribute innovations back and forth. Over time, this rhythmic give and take yields coordinated cooperative action.
...the combination of strong and weak links can create unexpected and spontaneous outbreaks of coordinated behavior across decentralized networks.
The partnership between the Social Source Foundation and CivicSpace labs to build and deploy CiviCRM is a good example of strong links in the network. Each organization also has many weaker links in the nonprofit technology sphere, the political sphere and the open source community.

This emergent Social Source ecosystem has already begun rhythmic oscillation... PicNet and CivicActions are starting to use the technology for customers and are increasingly communicating with the partners with the strong links (CivicSpace Labs and Social Source Foundation). Over time, if enough actors join the system, communicate and exchange innovations, unexpected coordinated behavior should start breaking out across the network.

We believe these yet to be discovered opportunities for coordination will create major positive changes in the field of social purpose technology for non-profits and NGOs.