open source is a company; social media is a country

November 15, 2009

image Anderson explains the organizational differences between open source and social media:

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. Why was this? Management theorist Charles Barnard, in his theory of the firm, proposed that it was because organizations existed for a common “shared purpose”.  Countries, on the other hand, existed only to serve their people.

Shared purpose required singular vision, leadership and top-down control. Serving the people, on the other hand, benefits from bottoms-up recognition of needs and collective decision-making (voting).

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. What makes successful open source projects is leadership, plain and simple. One or two people articulate a vision, start building towards it and bring others on board with specific tasks and permissions. The best projects are the ones with the best leaders.

Social media, on the other hands, doesn’t exist for a shared purpose. It exists to serve the individual. We don’t tweet to built Twitter, we tweet to suit ourselves. We blog because we can, not because we have signed on to a blogging project.

Seen this way, open source projects are like companies. Social media is like a country. Benevolent dictatorships rule the first; democracy the second.

The point: the nature of participation is very different between open source and social media, even though people tend to lump them together into “peer production”. Open source is hierarchical by design, while social media structure is simply ruled by popularity.

via The Long Tail by Chris Anderson on 3/14/09