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.

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