Free Revealing


The image on the right is a fragment from an ad that  O’Reilly  runs.

One of the reasons you want smart friends is that they can put a bee in your bonnet that  gets  stuck there for a long time.

Eric von Hippel has done that to me at least twice now. First asking how Open Source solves the coordination problem, and second asking why Open Source developers “freely reveal” (their innovations).

Of course what the bees do once they are in my head is entirely out of the control of the friends that stick them in there.

So I’ve begun making a list that attempts to accumulate why people do and don’t reveal. Why does the young woman reveal her belly button? Why does the coworker say “How’s it going?” It’s a very amusing topic.

Here are just a few reasons why people don’t reveal.

  • Fear of  embarrassment, or reputation damage. “Familiarity  breeds  contempt.”
  • Fear of gaining a reputation as having loose lips.
  • Fear of seeming weak or desperate as you reveal and those around you don’t.
  • Fear of seeming  naive  and child like exhibiting  unwarranted  trust in others.
  • Fear of appear to be a gossip, and hence a member of a social clique of similar people.
  • Fear that you’ll hurt others
  • Fear that you might reveal what is a valuable secret to another in your one of your communities and hence be shunned by that community.
  • Fear of loosing the trade secret advantages the knowledge enables.
  • Confusion that ideas are like physical property – if you give away an apple you can’t eat it.
  • Cost of translating the ideas into something your audience will understand.
  • Cost of finding an audience, i.e. distribution costs
  • Fear that revealing will create a “relationship” you have to maintain over time.

After a while it’s not clear why anybody would reveal anything.  This helps to explain people’s  bewilderment when they encounter free revealing on the net, for example blogging or open source.  The blogging case is particularly curious since the audience you reach is large so the chance of one of those risks kicking off is higher.

But, as my son pointed out, all these reasons have their inverse that can be framed as a positive.

0 thoughts on “Free Revealing

  1. Santiago Gala

    My take is that the coordination problem is solved with a traditional AI “control model” programming technique: the blackboard.

    The use of open mailing lists enables the community to coordinate by having a set of agents read and write in a shared space, the mailing list. It also enables monitoring (as actions leave a trail). For it to work, it is essential that all participants have a common understanding of “good” and “evil”, i.e. on the overall goals and dangers in the process.

    This is the reason why I’m so concerned about openness in Apache, because openness is what keeps us scalable, IMO.

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