Eric Raymond's most recent essay on open-source software, "The Magic Cauldron," set off the usual firestorm of debate over whether open source makes sense in a business context. Raymond is without question one of the most prominent and influential advocates of open-source software, but that doesn't mean every observation he makes is accepted as holy writ by the programming community. Quite the contrary -- as the media profile of open-source/free software rises, Raymond is getting hammered with at least as much abuse as praise.
But whatever your opinion of Raymond, you can't accuse him of not living up to his own hallowed methodology. Raymond's core argument is that the key strength of open-source software rests in its inherent promotion of widespread peer review. When everyone can see the source code, improvements and bug fixes are easily made and smoothly incorporated back into the code stream. Raymond applies exactly this process to his own essays.
Case in point: Raymond released "The Magic Cauldron" for public review on Thursday. Almost immediately, participants in a discussion on the Free Software Business mailing list took issue with some of Raymond's points. By Friday morning, Raymond had incorporated several changes in an updated version.
Referring to his seminal paper "The Cathedral and the Bazaar," Raymond says, "Yes, I'm consciously trying for a bazaar effect here, as I have with both my previous papers."
In addition to being pushed "to be more precise and careful about my use of economics terminology," says Raymond, he's also "been corrected on a few dates, numbers and technical points. I welcome all such feedback."
Such collaborative bootstrapping isn't a new thing under the sun, of course. It's been standard practice in academia for centuries. But the Internet speeds the process up, like free software itself. As Cygnus Software founder John Gilmore likes to note, it reduces "the transaction costs of cooperation."
And that sure sounds like a good business model.