The Starfish and the Spider compares two types of organizational structures. Spider organizations have a central command structure, like a CEO. If you detach one of the spider’s legs from the head, the leg can no longer function. It is not autonomous. Starfish organizations have very distributed command structures. Cut off a leg and it will continue to function and will even grow other legs and turn into its own starfish. Each type of organization has its benefits and drawbacks and each are useful at different times. One key to success is understanding what type of organization you are in, its strengths and weaknesses and when you might want to act more like the other type. Hybrids are also possible. For example, GE under Jack Welsh transitioned from a spider to a spider/starfish. Traditional companies tend to be more like spider organizations and open source software projects tend to be more like starfish.
Some of the points in The Starfish and the Spider made me wonder whether money can change an open source project into a more traditionally organized and closed project. And if it has that potential, what we can do preserve the best of open source while introducing money.
As I discussed in “Would you do it again for free?“, I’m very curious about how open source organizations work and in particular how factors like motivations, companies and pay change them. I’ve theorized that pay can change an open source developer’s motivations. It’s not usually bad for the project (especially if the payment is in the form of salaries) unless the money goes away. If the money goes away, if for example the developer gets laid off, then I think the developer will quit working on the project but will switch projects, not quit working on open source software projects all together. (Assuming they were working on open source software before they got paid to do it.)
But what happens when money gets introduced suddenly into an open source project? I think it depends on how the money is used and how much its distribution changes how the project is run. In most cases, access to money has greatly helped open source software projects in a number of ways.
Developers. There are a lot more developers working full time on projects like Linux and Firefox than there would be if no one was paid to work on them. And those developers contribute more than just work. They bring ideals and values to the project.
Team building & communication. More resources means being able to bring more people together – and not to just hold the conference but to actually pay for people’s travel expenses if needed. GNOME, Apache and Mozilla all help pay for contributors travel to key events when needed.
Infrastructure. Money can also provide for project infrastructure, hardware and hosting costs.
Skills. Money can also be used to bring in resources that open source software projects have traditionally had a hard time recruiting or finding in their volunteer staff such as marketing and business development.
Given all the benefits that additional resources can bring a project, I think having access to money is definitely a good thing for open source software projects. (And I’ve spent a lot of time personally helping projects effectively raise and use money through efforts like fundraising for GNOME and serving on the Board of Directors for the Software Freedom Conservancy.)
I do think there are a few things to keep in mind though.
Money often concentrates power. This is not so much an issue when the money is used for salaries, but more an issue of when resources for things are not accessible to all project members. Or the process for getting access is not communicated well. The Starfish and the Spider shares the example of how the Apache Indians were ultimately defeated. The Apaches were definitely a starfish organization. Tribes followed their leaders because they believed in them. If a leader was killed, people would continue to fight and a new leader would emerge. How were they defeated? By cows. The Americans gave the Apache leaders cows. Once they had cows, they controlled a valuable resource and became an authoritative leader and the power structure became hierarchical instead of flat. Once the organization was hierarchical, it was easier to control. So it’s important to make sure that control of resources reflects or supports the project structure.
It’s hard to spend money. Many open source software projects, especially those with relatively small amounts of money, struggle with how to spend the money effectively and fairly. If you have $500 and a project with 10 people, how should you use it? You could reward everyone with a dinner at a conference, but most of them would probably rather you spent the money on the project. You could pay to fly someone to the next hackfest that would not ordinarily be able to afford to attend. With a little bit of money (I heard under $10,000), it is often hard to spend the money. It’s more work to figure out how to spend it and use it, than it’s typically worth. Especially if the project doesn’t have an organizational entity associated with it.
Most financial transactions require an authorized person. In most countries, signing a deal with another organization requires someone to sign the deal. So to enter into any kind of business relationship whether as a client or a partner or a provider, an organization must have someone with authority to sign for the organization. And for tax and liability reasons, you need an organization to collect money and sign agreements. It’s possible to give that authority to someone in a way that’s consistent with the values of a starfish organization, but it requires some thought.
Money can do a lot of good for open source software projects but some thought needs to be given to using it in a way that will do long term good.
I haven’t written a book review in a long time so I thought I’d just share what I’ve been reading lately.
Mark Coggins leads the technical evangelist team at Mozilla and as he’s someone I work with on a daily basis, I was curious about his books. I have to admit, I started with The Adventure of the Black Bishop because it was short but it was good enough to lead me to VULTURE CAPITAL which I enjoyed very much.
Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere by Will Richardson. While I really like my kids’ schools and teachers, I feel more and more like school isn’t the best way for all kids to learn. The focus is still very much on teacher directed learning, everyone learning the same thing and being able to recite it back. When that’s your alphabet and numbers, it feels very appropriate. When it’s US capitals or Canadian provinces, it doesn’t feel like the best way to learn that info. Will Richardson does a good job of explaining why and how schools could evolve but he doesn’t have the answer.
Fatal Exchange by Russell Blake. I’m an Amazon Prime member and so I can check out a book a month but I never see many of the “free” books that I’m interested in. This one was pretty good. It was a bit far fetched but complex enough, action packed enough and well written enough to be a good read. Gruesomely violent though.
Thirteenth Child (Frontier Magic) series by Patricia Wrede. This is the wild west meets magic. It’s an alternate reality where magic animals (and magic wielding humans) exist and society is busy exploring the wild west of what we call the United States set in a technology age where trains and horses are used for transportation. The series was much more entertaining than I would have thought.
Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin. I listened to this book. It’s been in my queue for a long time as something I “should” read. I was pleasantly surprised that it felt really relevant. I had a conversation with David Ascher shortly afterwards about changing the way things are done by creating a new group and I was pretty excited to tell him that Seth Godin agreed with him! I may need to buy the print version so I can take some good notes.
And then I’m working on these:
The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. Since my team is working on the long tail of apps for the Firefox Marketplace, I thought I should listen to the book about what the long tail really is. If I’m going to make it through it, I think I may have to buy the print edition. So far it’s been very focused on the economics of the supplier offering a long tail and I’m much more interested in the long tail from the individual creator’s point of view.
Escape Velocity by Geoffrey Moore. We’ve been using Geoffrey More’s Horizon model to describe projects at Mozilla. I’m finding it full of very thought provoking ideas. For example, “participating in low-power category, such as desktop computers, wire-line phone services, or e-mail, is an exercise in playing on the margins”. If you are in a low power category, life is just going to be hard. You need to create a new category if you want to deliver innovation. There’s even insights on staffing such as “organizations tend to leave the same people in place for the life of a line of business, which is often not good either for the business or the people”. And he goes on to talk about how different types of leaders and manager are required depending on the stage a project is in. More to come …
If you are an Amazon Prime subscriber, you can check out one free book a month. However, Amazon doesn’t make it really easy for you to figure out which books are eligible to be checked out from the Owners’ Lending Library.
To see the list of books you can check out, search for “prime eligible” in Amazon Kindle Books.
If you find one you like, add it to your wishlist. Then on your Kindle, you can browse your wishlist and check it out.
Here’s a direct link to that search that you can use from your computer:
In Drive he talks about rewards as motivation and how they apply to the work place with some pretty startling results. It turns out that really big bonuses actually make us perform worse. People focus so much on the bonus that they get really nervous and do worse.
He also talks about the things that make us perform better like:
autonomy (self-direction and being engaged),
mastery (getting better at something) and
He uses open source software projects of examples of how that works.
For an entertaining 10 minute version of the book check out this video:
(I wish I could do presentations like that. I am now working on that!)
Thanks to Barbara Hueppe for the pointer to the video. She passed it on as an excellent example of what motivates communities like Mozilla’s community.
Did you know that not only are there entire books on fish, but there are entire books on single types of fish?
Much to my delight, my four year old sees the library as a treasure house of information. He’s not interested in the stories (although I push them every time), he just wants to head to the nonfiction section. Sometimes he has a topic in mind, but if not, we always end up looking at fish books.
This weekend, a book about sharks caught his eye, Sharks and Other Creatures of the Deep. As we read through it, I was really impressed at how much information they taught in a fun way. For example, they taught about ocean currents (and pollution) by talking about 29,000 rubber duckies that fell of a container ship in the Pacific and how they’ve been found from Hawaii to Greenland over time.
I think the best part of the book is the layout. It varies from page to page but really keeps little guys interested when they might not be able to follow whole pages of prose. (And even though I’d said I wasn’t going to read it right then, I found myself peering over his shoulder pointing things out.) And it’s not just about sharks … that was just the teaser.
(Last week the topic he was interested in was space, and with the librarians’ help, I managed to get my hands on a book I read over 25 years ago, The First Travel Guide to the Moon. That was fun.)
The Kindle now lets you see what other readers have highlighted. I look forward to the day when I can filter this by what my friends have highlighted.
I find what people highlight in fiction books is baffling. For example, is this quote meaningful to you?
Jace didn’t take his eyes off Simon; there was an electric anger in his gaze, and a sort of challenge that made Simon long to hit him with something heavy. Like a pickup truck.
It was to many others. They highlighted it. Is it memorable because of the pickup truck? If not, why? If so, is that really the most memorable thing they’ve read today? If so, I have a few RSS feeds to recommend.
I love reading things my friends recommend through Twitter and Google Reader. Kindle highlights, which are not by friends but by everybody, have not been so interesting …
Are you wondering if you should buy a Kindle 3 if you already have a Kindle 2? Or whether you should buy someone a Kindle 3 if they already have a Kindle 2?
The answer is yes. Not only is the Kindle 3 better than the Kindle 2 but you can also sell your used Kindle 2 on Ebay for about $160. Since a new Kindle 3G is only $189, that means you might upgrade your Kindle for less than $30!
5 other reasons to buy a Kindle 3 even if you already have a Kindle 2:
Comparing the screen quality of the Kindle 2 versus the Kindle 3 by OmegaPoint
The picture is better.
The pages turn faster. After using my Kindle 2 for so long, I’ve gotten used to hitting next page before I reach the end of the page because it takes a few seconds. The Kindle 3 turns pages much quicker.
The battery lasts longer. My Kindle 2 battery lasts plenty long if I leave the wireless off. However, I like to keep my place synchronized on Amazon, so if I have a moment to read a few pages on my phone, it knows exactly where I left off on my Kindle.
It’s smaller. It’s a bit smaller (half an inch in width and height) and lighter (1.5 ounces) but the screen is the same size.
Someone else in the household can now have a Kindle with all the same books on it! (If you don’t sell it on eBay!)
Food Rules by Michael Pollen is a good summary of many of his other books. It’s a set of 63 rules with a bit of explanation per rule. If you’ve never read any of his books, I’d probably recommend The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but if you’ve already read one or if you are just looking for a shorter read, Food Rules was good.
Some of the rules I liked were:
If you aren’t willing to eat an apple, you’re not hungry.
Eat no food whose ingredients you wouldn’t have at home.
Snacks should be unprocessed plant foods.
(Not that I am currently following any of these rules!)
I also liked these reminders:
Eat until not hungry, not until full.
Put your fork down between bites.
Use smaller plates and glasses.
Eat at the table, and only eat when you are eating.
Cook your own junk food. (How often would you eat french fries if you had to cook them?)
Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual was an entertaining and thoughtful read. It didn’t feel worth buying to me because it was so short so I’d recommend checking it out of the library. I got my copy through Paperbackswap and have already sent it on to somebody else.
A couple of weeks ago I asked for recommendations for dragon books. Then I was flipping through my Kindle books (I download a lot of free ones from Amazon) and I saw Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb. Amazon gave it away for a while and I downloaded it and never read it. I read it and I loved it. So I went to buy the sequel. I was quite willing to pay $9.99 – it’s still in hardback – for it but when I discovered it was $15 for a digital version I decided I wasn’t buying it. I checked all the local libraries and ended up on the waitlist. Last Saturday I was up in Fort Collins to meet friends and I found a copy in the Fort Collins library. I made my 3 year old run upstairs with me to make sure we got to it before any one else snagged it. I have to say I enjoyed Dragon Haven as much as the first book.
I feel like there’s been a lack of really good new science fiction and fantasy books (that aren’t about vampires and werewolves) and Dragon Keeper & Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb was just what I was craving.
Why did I enjoy it?
It’s definitely a fantasy book. There are dragons and people genetically change by either the world or the dragons. A what if book.
There’s life on the river – and I’m always fascinated by people living on water.
It’s got lots of different societies and social classes and I’m fascinated by how classes and societies interact. Robin Hobb also does a good job creating societies affected by having to live in trees and suffering from lots of genetic birth defects.
While it’s a fantasy book, things seemed based on science. It seems like it could be life on another planet or genetically altered life.
The character development is pretty good. There are lots of interesting characters, some more developed than others. Some a bit more naive (too naive?) than others. But all interesting. And some tension and romance thrown in for good measure.
There’s lots of strong female characters. I enjoy reading books about women and science fiction and fantasy books with strong female characters are less common than those with strong male characters. I think it’s one of the reasons that many of my favorite science fiction authors are women. (I also enjoy books with strong male characters. But it reminds me of this post I saw today. 64% of girls and 100% of boys draw scientists as men.)