The (Open Source) World in 2020

A History Based Look into the Future

My worksheet for an accepted contribution to the FrOSCon 2008 about the topic "The Open Source World in 2020 - Ein Blick in die Glaskugel...".

Formal stuff


The talk addresses the FrOSCon topic "The Open Source World in 2020 - Ein Blick in die Glaskugel...". To address the topic from a scientific perspective the talk was created with the mindest: "If you want to predict future you must have understood history!". In the first part of the talk looks back on the history of Free Software as the most visible and most successful example of an Open Source phenomenon. It sketches a picture starting with the earliest forms of Free Software until today. The second part of the talk explains Selbstentfaltung and openness as the basic principles of the phenomenon of Free Software and similar phenomenons. It explains how these principles constitute a new mode of production and why this mode is stronger than the capitalist one. The talk gives a short introduction to a general model of development and shows how Free Software as well as capitalism develop(ed), according to this model. The third part draws the conclusion and extrapolates the discoveries to the near future. It is outlined where further expansion and deeper embedding of those basic principles can be expected.

See for draft slides.


Stefan Merten founded Project Oekonux in 1999. The project offers a virtual space where different people with different opinions and different methods for studying the socio-economic and socio-political forms of Free Software, and other peer production phenomenons. An important question is, whether the principles of peer production may be the foundation of a new economy, which in turn may be the base for a new society.

Stefan Merten studied computer science and works in the software field for more than 15 years. He also maintains a few small Free Software projects.

.. _Project Oekonux:


The (Open Source) World in 2020

A History Based Look into the Future
Author:Stefan Merten
Editor:Florian Samson
Organization:Project Oekonux

A brief look into history

Let's go 24 years back: 1984

To peek into the future it is important to understand history

  • Free Software very small

    • Hardly noticed at all

    • Internet did not exist in its todays form

      But that is one of the main foundations for Free Software today

  • A few determined persons with lots of idealism

    • E.g. Richard M. Stallman

      Just founded GNU project back then

  • No similar phenomenon existed

  • But: Basic principles were already there

    What the basic principles are follows in second part


Very beginnings may be hard to notice

12 years later...: 1996
  • Free Software was pretty big

    • Linux has entered the scene
    • Many contributors
  • But it still was not very visible

    • Not taken serious by many

      Company involvement was very small

      "Open Source" was not invented

  • Still no similar phenomenons emerged

    • Though the example started to inspire people
  • Important: Basic principles stayed


Good ideas grow because they are useful for people

Today: 2008
  • Free Software is here to stay

    • Lots of contributors

    • A sustainable and enduring economy exists

      I.e.: A system where goods are produced and distributed

    • Though not an economy based on exchange...

  • Free Software is very visible

    • Using Free Software is common place and growing

      Companies engage in Free Software in multiple ways

    • Last frontier: The desktop

      But Ubuntu comes for the helping

  • Similar phenomenons became visible

    • Wikipedia (= Free encyclopedia)
    • Creative Commons licensed works
    • OpenAccess (= Free Science)
    • Free Music and other media (think: YouTube)

    And some more...

  • The successful antetype of Free Software inspired these

    • Based on the same basic principles
    • Basic principles turned out to be successful
    • Also in other fields than software


The basic principles are strong enough to spread out

Understanding history

First basic principle: Selbstentfaltung

What are those basic principles after all?

  • Selbstentfaltung (simplified):

    • Having fun individually
    • While maintaining a relationship to society
  • Fundamental motivator for humans

    Complex reasoning in Critical Psychology based on evolution

  • Different for every individual

    Good news: Every task may find an executor

  • Includes responsibility

  • Important expression: Volunteering for useful tasks


Something individuals and society benefit from

This combination is pretty new to mankind!

Second basic principle: Openness
  • Openness in two ways

    • Internal openness: Everyone may contribute
    • External openness: Everyone may use the results
  • Technology of digital copy is the historical enabler of openness

    Made external and internal openness easy

  • "Free" in Free Software really means:

    • Internal openness is a prerequisite for external openness
    • And vice versa

    That defines a positive feedback cycle


Technology may make way for new societal phenomenons

Societal phenomenons - not only technology

A new mode of production emerges
  • Exciting: A new mode of production emerges

    • Generally called "peer production"
  • Mode of production describes societal facilities to produce goods

    • Capitalism is a mode of production

    Feudalism is the prior one

  • No exchange in the core of peer production

    Cannot be explained by classic economic theory

    • "This is doomed to fail" - they say
    • But: It exists, grows and is adapted in more and more fields


Something wrong with classic economy ;-)

Power from new principles
  • Fortitude arises from the basic principles
  • Selbstentfaltung aiming at absolute quality
    • If it is "your baby" you want to be proud of
    • No boss stops you from doing it
    • Impossible if you need to make profit
  • Positive feedback cycle of openness leads to sustainable expansion
  • Basic principles are stronger than those of proprietary software


Oekonux thesis: A new mode of production leads to a new society

Five-step model of development

Shown: Basic principles forming a new mode of production

Now: Modeling how development takes place

  • Germ form = something based on novel principles
  1. Emerging of the new

    • First appearances of the germ form
    • Think: Free Software in 1984
  2. Crisis of the old

    • Slump of the old forms
    • Think: Crisis of classical Unices on midrange servers
  3. Disseminating and expanding

    • Germ form becomes important in the old process
    • Think: Free Software today

    Coexists with the old form

    Not always peaceful

    • Key question: Does it keep its germ form features?

      Here: The basic principles cannot be integrated into the old form

  4. Achieving dominance

    • The germ form becomes dominant form
    • Think: Proprietary software on the decline
  5. Restructuring society

    • Restructuring of entire system process
  • For software: Free Software is well in phase 3: disseminating and expanding
  • For society: Peer production is in phase 1: emerging


There is hope! :-)

Successful germ form: 200 years back
  • Capitalism

    • A mode of production
    • Its development fits nicely into the five-step model
  • Emerging phase happened long ago

    Earliest forms appeared during the Roman Empire

  • Crisis of the old happened when the feudal principles exhausted

    For instance: Religious schism in the Christian church

    For instance: Enlightenment and new forms of science transcended feudal principles

  • Disseminating and expanding started with early textile industry (weaving machines)

  • Capitalism has achieved dominance in the 20th century

  • Restructuring society is still not fully complete


A new mode of production starting as a germ form can take over

A peek into the future

Some words of caution
  • Disseminating and expanding proceeds chaotically
    • Remember: The old is fighting the new
    • Particularly time lines are very hard to forecast
    • Good news: Small actions can have major effects
    • So you can make a difference!
  • External constraints limit predictability
    • In particular: Global societal developments
  • In 1808 it was impossible to foresee the world of 2008
    • Things which are perceived as "natural" today were unimaginable back then


But the forecast in question is only for 12 years ;-)

Vertical expansion
  • Free Software is common on the desktop

  • Most software will be Free

    At least: That which can benefit from the Free Software principles

  • Governance issues of Wikipedia will be history

    Either because Wikipedia found accepted ways to cope with them

    Or by a more successful fork

  • OpenAccess has become a best practice in science

  • Lots of Free Music are available

  • Lots of [your favorite project here] available


Vertical expansion is quite sure

Horizontal expansion
  • More fields of production will follow those basic principles

    • The Basic principles are easily applicable to all creative processes

    • External openness is easier to achive for digital products

      Because of technology of digital copy being lossless and cheap

    • Easier as you do not need an expensive infrastructure for distribution

  • Some guesses

    • Free pharmaceutical information
    • Free genetic information
    • Free hardware designs picked up by industry
    • Free car design picked up by industry


Horizontal expansion depends on many aspects

Deeper embedding
  • Basic Principles to become more widely accepted
  • Governments will back this increasingly
    • Basic income for this type of activity
  • Companies exploit these principles more and more
    • See Eric v. Hippel's work on User Innovation


More than that will not happen within the next 12 years, supposedly

Wrap up

  • Free Software took time to take off
  • Basic principles: Selbstentfaltung and openness
  • On this basis a new mode of production is emerging
  • This new mode of production will dominate in the future
  • We are witnessing the first steps into a new epoch


In 2020 you will know if I was right ;-)

Thank you
  • More on this:
  • Contact:
  • 4th Oekonux Conference
    • Free Software and Beyond - The World of Peer Production
    • 2009-03-27 to -29, Manchester (UK)
  • Questions or other contributions?


Thank you for your attention

StefanMerten/Talks/FrOSCon2008 (last edited 2009-06-02 17:02:20 by StefanMerten)

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