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March 12, 2009


Anders Lundkvist

At first glance – the question seemed to be derived from confusion. Anyone who has worked in a open source project recognizes the mechanisms to success; the visualization of progress, divison of labour and leadership, but also commitment to the shared purpose. Jan Ljungberg (http://www.tinkering.se) once wrote an excellent article on the open source benevolent dictatorships: Ljungberg, J. (2000) Open Source Movements as a Model for Organizing. European Journal of Information Systems, December, 2000. However, open source has become a philosophy, an idea and a hope about people working together in other areas than software development. In many of those cases the open source licenses are in focus rather than the actual work processes.

kelvin newman

that's a good way of explaining the difference, have to commit that one to memory

Bryan Rosander

This is missing a few key differences in the two systems.
First, it is much easier to leave a free software project / company and join another or start their own. In fact, starting new projects and companies happens all the time, and is one of the primary sources of innovation.

Countries meanwhile, rarely have new ones popping up, and it is much more difficult to switch countries than businesses.

In the first case, people still vote, but they do with their time, not an abstract ballot scheme. If people could create their own nations like this, we might see some differences in the model.


The image chosen for this article has no connection with the content. I'm very displeased with it's inclusion here. It's selection reflects poorly on the author both intellectually and socially.

Chris Anderson

Republican, you missed the joke. Open source projects are best run as dictatorships. "It's not fascism when we do it." Try to look past the elephant.


"One of the paradoxes of early 20th Century management was the observation that companies are best run as dictatorships, while countries are best run as democracies."

Having been a top level manager for 20 years I can tell you that truer words were NEVER spoken.




"Many people mistakenly think that open source projects are emergent, self-organized and democratic. The truth is just the opposite: most are run by a benevolent dictator or two."

You guys obviously haven't spent much time studying dictators (nor any history to speak of). Strangely you seem to have forgotten the gulags, re-education camps, gas chambers, secret police and all those associated nastiness that tend to be part of a dictatorship.

Maybe later might be worth considering actually learning about how Open Source project governance works (rather than playing silly word-association games) and perhaps start by reading up on "the right of succession".



Can an elephant spy an elephant hidden behind an elephant?

- t'rench


Anyway, not to make a good point confusing but - why are we comparing Open Source and Social Media to begin with? I understand the initial desire to, but really they aren't comparable entities at all. Apples/oranges. Open Source is many levels of ideology, all of which have been muddied with different licenses and multi-licenses, etcetera, etcetera. The roots of Open Source are really found in Public Domain, imho... and PD is quite the opposite of Dictatorial.

Chris Anderson

Tel, if you read more carefully, you'll see that I said "benevolent dictator". Look it up--no gulags.

And as for learning how open source projects work, I have. I run two (ArduPilot and Blimpduino) at diydrones.com and am on the Sourceforge advisory board. Maybe you run your projects differently, along full democratic lines. If so, please tell us more about that here.


well, it seems to me that in some case a project need more than collaboration.
Some organisation need a leader to reach the goal.

For example : to develop a CMs, i think collaboration is not enough.

It's the same for countries. People vote for a person. Even if a program is set up by a community, to be elected you need somebody to personify it.

It's what happen with Obama.


It's a bit soon forget that nobody is obliged to follow the benevolent dictator, the right to fork is inalienable, so he should at least seek a consensus among those encoding.


I don't quite understand your point. Democracies are often dictatorships with a deadline, which is true in countries with great presidential power. Every four years, we the people decide what the common purposes will be for the next four. The purpose and problems that face a country, however, are not the same of a company, but both need good leadership and management.

Big open source communities, like Debian, KDE and GNOME are run by democratic processes as a whole, but are composed of smaller projects with different ways of organization. Benevolent dictatorships for life are often used in smaller and less complex communities, like the Linux kernel and the Python language.

Anyway. Are you suggesting a paralelism between social media and democracies? Twitter is not democratic, there are no elections, just people sending messages. However, Digg has votes to decide what's relev^H^H^H^H... popular ;) And finally Wikipedia is an example of a social media with a shared purpose.

Simon Deane-Johns

I see Open Source and social media as having arisen out of the same dynamic, perhaps best summed up - like Web 2.0 - as an "architecture of participation".

I disagree that "Shared purpose required singular vision, leadership and top-down control" or that companies are best run in this fashion.

All group efforts benefit from great leadership. And there's a bottom-up dynamic in every instance of great leadership that I can think of, whether involving, say, Ghandi, Mandela, Lincoln, Churchill or even military examples like Patton. They brought the best out in the groups they happened to lead successfully by reflecting, communicating and fostering a shared vision, and did not purport to impose a singular vision using top-down control. Read "Speeches that Changed the World" (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Speeches-Changed-World-Simon-Montefiore/dp/1905204167).

Dare I mention it, the Credit Crunch is a great example of how bad things get when communities cede responsibility to top-down control by a few alleged "leaders". As with other disaster scenarios, the damage will only really be reversed when all participants share and act on a vision - in this case - of transparent, sustainable financial services.

Open Source and social media are great examples of what can be achieved by groups of individuals participating on the basis of a shared vision, fostered by the various leaders of the key platforms on which that participation occurs.

wow gold

Great post. You have clearly stated the difference between the an open source and social media.

Henrique Haruki Arake Cavalcante

I´m a Brazilian lawyer and I'm burning my head here trying to imagine a way to apply the logic of the free to the law services! Please give me a sign if you find an answer!


I think it's possible to take the dictatorship thing too far when it comes to running a company. Somebody has to make the decisions and they must be informed decisions. But some of the best work is done when people are given free reign to pursue projects that they believe will ultimately benefit the company.

Just my $.02.

anger help


Wow! I never thought of it that way. That's excellent insight.

I think they can actually be intertwined though as well. I don't necessarily feel they are always so different. It all depends on who and why they are using it.

Personal Checks


I´m a Brazilian lawyer and I'm burning my head here trying to imagine a way to apply the logic of the free to the law services! Please give me a sign if you find an answer! ---> posting a reply just to be helped! why not seek there thoroughly, it will come until you find it an answer...


Excellent thought.

William Hertling

What both open source and social media have in common is that both tend to be meritocracies. The great leaders in open source are followed voluntarily because they have proved their merit as designers, visionaries, or organizers. Similarly, social media recognizes those who make substantial contributions: contributors voluntarily link to other contributors who make worthwhile contributions.

This differs substantially from both countries and companies. In countries, leaders are often elected because of their ability to play to established powers and economic interests, and in companies leaderships are selected because of their appeal to those above them, not their appeal to those below them.


attribution note: The OP refers to management theorist Charles Barnard. It's more likely the theorist in question is CHESTER Barnard.

I should not know, but long ago I endured a college course the core content of which was the man's insightful - but stylistically impenetrable - magnum opus.

英語 学習

I never thought like this way but interesting...I'm originally from Japan and I wonder how this viewpoint can be applied to different culture/country.

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Safari Richard

Whatever your views are, i like open source staff. If its dictatorship, well monarchs have survived for longer years than the democrats.


I think the message here i being lost in the noise and emotional baggage that the words carry. I think what Angela said was spot on. If you remove the labels from her message she was basically saying that companies or micro-organizations run best when there is one person who has the ultimate responsibility for making decisions and etc. Countries or macro-organizations have a better track record when they are run by committee.

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Rich Berger

In light of the current administration, it would be more appropriate to use the donkey.

radha krishnan

Strangely you seem to have forgotten the gulags, re-education camps, gas chambers, secret police and all those associated nastiness that tend to be part of a dictatorship
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I am an Indian and I am wondering how this viewpoint can be applied to my culture.

I never thought like this way but this is interesting.


I have to agree that open source projects do require strict leadership. "Benevolent" and dictatorship are little harsh but i guess it was meant in a good light to highlight focus of the leadership. I guess Linus's success can speak for itself. Many criticize him for being too strict but at the end we all get a solid outcome.

Steve Articles

Well said .. I like the title very much - "Open source is a company; social media is a country"


I'm not quite so sure that the most successful companies are in fact run as dictatorships any more. In the UK the only financial companies that have remained solvent are those run as cooperatives and mutual building societies - the dictatorship banks have all gone bust !

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Open source and social media are the future of the Internet. No doubt about it.


I am being made redundant after 13 years in my current job. If only companies were run like countries, maybe we would have better places to work instead of company directors fishing to shaft employees any chance they get!


It real does make me think about the way people view opensource. I have to be honest with you, I thought that they were all demorcatics but you seem to know abit more than I would...quite intresting to be honest.


Love your comment, Rick! I'm afraid the current administration might not like it!


Open source or not when there is an originating founder of a project or organization it will always be his/her baby and nurtured as such hence the dictatorship. It takes this individual drive and passion to achieve success.

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Hi Rich, you are right in saying so. I am not able to understand what the administration people think about the workers?

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I love open source stuff as a rule but my frustration is when development stops you are on your own.


In many developing countries, many companies do not have enough money to buy lots of high cost softwares, so open source softwares are the only way they must go with.


!! LOL good use of old propaganda :P


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The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

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