Revisiting the cathedral/bazaar metaphor: Why both Eric Raymond and Nicholas Carr got it (partly) wrong

Pat Kane send me an interesting question:

“Is Nicholas Carr right here when he says

If Eric Raymond made a mistake in his paper, it was in drawing too sharp a distinction between the cathedral and the bazaar. They’re not two different and incompatible approaches to innovation. Their relationship is symbiotic. Without the bazaar, the cathedral model moves too slowly. Without the cathedral, the bazaar model lacks focus and discipline.”


It seems fair to say that although the bazaar should be defined by diversity, the cathedral should be defined by talent. When you move from the bazaar to the cathedral, it’s best to leave your democratic ideals behind.”

Here is my response:

first of all, I think Raymond’s metaphor is wrong. Peer production is not a commercial bazaar model, but a form of voluntary engagement that creates a common pool that can be used by everybody. There is no market and no pricing for non-rival material that can be reproduced at marginal cost. What kind of bazaar is that, where products are not sold for a price in a market, and there are no merchants? I think he also got the cathedral metaphor wrong, because these were historically projects that engaged and mobilized entire communities and involved donations and voluntary labour. In fact, instead of such binary logic, we have 3 logics: centralized state or corporate planning, decentralized business market logics, and distributed peer production logics. Since Carr reproduces that binary logic in his critique, it shares the same flaw.

There are 3 business models that I see around peer production, each involving different relationships between community and business.

1) in the sharing economy of creative expression, participants have weak links and cannot built common infrastructures. Therefore, the web 2.0 is a model whereby proprietary platforms enable and empower sharing and in exchange can sell the aggregated attention to the advertising market, to fund the infrastructure and make a profit. Participants and businesses have different logics, but also clearly need each other.

2) in the commons model, where volunteers create a common product (firefox, wikipedia, large parts of linux), they can only do so by strongly engaging with each other, and therefore usually generate their own infrastructures. In this case, you have the community which is largely self-governed, you have non-profit institutions (mozilla, wikipedia, apache foundations) that manage the resource base, and around the ‘abundance’ of the commons, scarcities are created that can be marketed (IBM, Red Hat, etc…). These companies in return give general support to the infrastructure and community from which they derive their value.

3) finally, in the crowdsourcing model, companies take the initiative and therefore create a framework under their own control, though they are still constrained by certain open dynamics.

In all these cases, there is an interplay between various forms of community dynamics and the companies involved. However, the concept of hybridity can be misleading because it is important to see that different logics are at play, and for example, the for-profit logic of web 2.0 platforms should not destroy the sharing economy of the users, and the commons-driven companies are limited by crowding out effects (generally speaking, you can’t pay part of the community and not others, without destroying the logic of volunteerism). Communities of participants and the business ecologies around them are both strengthened and limited by each other’s interplay, in this Carr is certainly right.

Generally speaking, I think that indeed, each form of production, governance, and property is not a perfect panacea for everything, and needs to know its limitations, and how these can be overcome through the strengths of the other modes. Carr’s article therefore has certainly merit for pointing that out.

1 Comment Revisiting the cathedral/bazaar metaphor: Why both Eric Raymond and Nicholas Carr got it (partly) wrong

  1. Pingback: 3 Peer Production Business Models at CrowdsourcingDirectory

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