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.

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