Seems like today is all about followups and conversations among blogs. (For example, Mark Byron noticed my unfisking yesterday and wrote about it in his blog. My response to his response to my response to his original post can be found in his comments.)
So I wanted to elevate an interesting thread from my comments. The interesting part is provided by Dylan Tweney, responding to my post about the Shirky article. Tweney suggests another viable precedent for this type of mass-amateurization in the open source movement.
My response to that was, “hmm, not sure i’m swallowing that analogy just yet… there are parallels, but… hmm, tricky stuff. must think on it.” A cop out! Perhaps I was distracted by the differences (the whole “tinkering” aspect of open source) instead of noticing the similarities that seem to relate to relieving certain activities of the requirement that they “pay their own way” for the time involved.
I used to call this the power of low thresholds. Because Enterzone never planned to make money, we outlasted many ambitious webzines that failed to make it over the higher thresholds they set for themselves. And yet, anything that does not sustain itself must be subsidized by something else. (For the blogger, this price may simply be paid in terms of less time and attention available to spend on other cherished pursuits.)
Tweney elaborates on the analogy:
Well, think about what Linux has done to the market for enterprise server OSes: It’s reduced the price to zero. (Even Sun gives away Solaris for free now.) The beauty of open source is that anyone can contribute; their contributions are accepted only to the extent that the community rolls them up into the next release. Comparably, with blogs, people’s posts get swept up into larger conversations or else they get ignored. The ugly side of this is that it can destroy commercial markets, if the free stuff gets good enough.
He also picks up on the music analogy (in my original post, I wrote “I would wonder whether this same form of mass-amateurization will also sweep through the music world?”):
Kazaa, Morpheus, etc. — all have the potential to do the same kind of thing for the music world, because they put artists in direct contact with their fans. Get enough fans, and you might be able to build a market for CDs, concert tickets, special goodies, etc. However, the emergence of this market is being thwarted by the legal attacks on P2P as a whole. The record labels are scared of P2P, and they have good reason to be. It’s not just that fans can violate copyright and get free music — it’s that P2P networks could change the entire economic system of music production and distribution.
The dynamics are different in the software, writing, and music worlds, but in each case it seems like there’s a powerful sort of “mass amateurization” happening.