Subject: Re: Software as a public service
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <stephen@xemacs.org>
Date: Tue, 17 May 2005 02:14:50 +0900

>>>>> "Russell" == Russell McOrmond <russell@flora.ca> writes:

    Russell> Let me explore a different direction.  When looking at
    Russell> why peer production works great for things like software,
    Russell> but not so great for things like entertainment, I have
    Russell> tried to come up with language for things which have
    Russell> value "for what they do" and other things which have
    Russell> value "for what they are".

Productive assets (positive feedback, if you look at it sideways ;)
vs. consumption goods.  Consumers don't contribute back in kind
(except in the form of applause, which has its cachet), so it needs to
be money.

Note that peer production _does_ work well for entertainment on a
different dimension.  You cast a movie not just for the roles but also
to the other actors.  Consider the way that jazz and rock bands tend
to have their friends from other bands sit in for a tune or do harmony
on a couple of tracks, etc.  Or the way they cover each others' songs.
However, the performers have to contribute on the intensive margin (a
guest performer has to work hard!) as well as the extensive margin
(the more the merrier, as in a charity concert).  Software is more
self-contained, in fact software that you can use (== extend) without
ever talking to the author is given much higher marks than otherwise,
but in music playing a cover over somebody else's track ... well, OK,
people do this in karaoke all the time, but the stars want to jam.

    Russell> Software provides more value as it accomplishes more
    Russell> tasks, not as it exists in some larger number of copies.

I'm not sure I can make any sense of that distinction.

    Russell> In the sense of the word scarce you are talking about
    Russell> there being a higher demand for software to do various
    Russell> tasks than the supply of (and knowledge of) existing
    Russell> software to accomplish these tasks.  Once the software to
    Russell> accomplish a specific task "exists" it can then
    Russell> accomplish that same task for anyone any number of times
    Russell> without any additional cost.  It is in this latter sense,
    Russell> not the former, that people suggest that software isn't
    Russell> scarce.

Of course.  But that doesn't mean you don't want to amortize the cost
over all the uses.

    Russell> Is there economic terminology that separates these two
    Russell> different types of scarcity?

This is close to the distinction between the "extensive" margin (eg,
employing more workers) vs the "intensive" margin (eg, having each
worker do overtime).  I'm not sure whether the odd feeling I get as I
write that is significant, or just that this is a perfectly
appropriate but unfamiliar context for that terminology.

There's also a distinction between "scale" (more of the same) and
"scope" (greater variety), but those words are pretty specific to
costs in common usage.  I'm not sure if they can be coerced to this
usage.


-- 
School of Systems and Information Engineering http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba                    Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
               Ask not how you can "do" free software business;
              ask what your business can "do for" free software.