Homesteading the Noosphere

Eric Steven Raymond

This is version 3.0


Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the Open Publication License, version 2.0.

$Date: 2002/08/02 09:02:15 $

Revision History
Revision 1.2224 August 2000esr
Handicap theory, peacocks, and stags. Parallels with knighthood.
Revision 1.2224 August 2000esr
DocBook 4.1 conversion.
Revision 1.2131 Aug 1999esr
Major revision for the O'Reilly book. Incorporated some ideas about the costs of forking and rogue patches from Michael Chastain. Thomas Gagne ( noticed the similarity between "seniority wins" and database heuristics. Henry Spencer's political analogy. Ryan Waldron and El Howard ( contributed thoughts on the value of novelty. Thomas Bryan ( explained the hacker revulsion to ``embrace and extend''. Darcy Horrocks inspired the new section ``How Fine A Gift?'' Other new material on the connection to the Maslovian hierarcy of values, and the taboo against attacks on competence.
Revision 1.1421 November 1998esr
Minor editorial and stale-link fixes.
Revision 1.1011 July 1998esr
Remove Fare Rideau's reference to `fame' at his suggestion.
Revision 1.926 May 1998esr
Incorporated Faré Rideau's noosphere/ergosphere distinction. Incorporated RMS's assertion that he is not anticommercial. New section on acculturation and academia (thanks to Ross J. Reedstrom, Eran Tromer, Allan McInnes, Mike Whitaker, and others). More about humility, (`egoless behavior') from Jerry Fass and Marsh Ray.
Revision 1.827 April 1998esr
Added Goldhaber to the bibliography. This is the version that will go in the Linux Expo proceedings.
Revision 1.716 April 1998esr
New section on `Global implications' discusses historical tends in the colonization of the noosphere, and examines the `category-killer' phenomenon. Added another research question.
Revision 1.312 April 1998esr
Typo fixes and responses to first round of public comments. First four items in bibliography. An anonymously contributed observation about reputation incentives operating even when the craftsman is unaware of them. Added instructive contrasts with warez d00dz, material on the `software should speak for itself' premise, and observations on avoiding personality cults. As a result of all these changes, the section on `The Problem of Ego' grew and fissioned.
Revision 1.210 April 1998esr
First published on the Web.


After observing a contradiction between the official ideology defined by open-source licenses and the actual behavior of hackers, I examine the actual customs that regulate the ownership and control of open-source software. I show that they imply an underlying theory of property rights homologous to the Lockean theory of land tenure. I then relate that to an analysis of the hacker culture as a `gift culture' in which participants compete for prestige by giving time, energy, and creativity away. Finally, I examine the consequences of this analysis for conflict resolution in the culture, and develop some prescriptive implications.

Table of Contents

An Introductory Contradiction
The Varieties of Hacker Ideology
Promiscuous Theory, Puritan Practice
Ownership and Open Source
Locke and Land Title
The Hacker Milieu as Gift Culture
The Joy of Hacking
The Many Faces of Reputation
Ownership Rights and Reputation Incentives
The Problem of Ego
The Value of Humility
Global Implications of the Reputation-Game Model
How Fine a Gift?
Noospheric Property and the Ethology of Territory
Causes of Conflict
Project Structures and Ownership
Conflict and Conflict Resolution
Acculturation Mechanisms and the Link to Academia
Gift Outcompetes Exchange
Conclusion: From Custom to Customary Law
Questions for Further Research

Anyone who watches the busy, tremendously productive world of Internet open-source software for a while is bound to notice an interesting contradiction between what open-source hackers say they believe and the way they actually behave—between the official ideology of the open-source culture and its actual practice.

Cultures are adaptive machines. The open-source culture is a response to an identifiable set of drives and pressures. As usual, the culture's adaptation to its circumstances manifests both as conscious ideology and as implicit, unconscious or semi-conscious knowledge. And, as is not uncommon, the unconscious adaptations are partly at odds with the conscious ideology.

In this essay, I will dig around the roots of that contradiction, and use it to discover those drives and pressures. I will deduce some interesting things about the hacker culture and its customs. I will conclude by suggesting ways in which the culture's implicit knowledge can be leveraged better.