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kuro5hin.org: The GPL: A Technology Of Trust

Jun 17, 2001, 21:00 (5 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by grout)

kuro5hin offers this brief, brief examination of the GPL. The author prefaces his piece with "Microsoft's attacks on the GNU General Public License (GPL) prompted me to analyze its technical merits, using insights from the book 'Nonzero' by Robert Wright. Since I'm a fan of Open Source for its pragmatic benefits, my own conclusions surprised the heck out of me."

"Society is built on exchange. One particular form of exchange that we're genetically wired for is reciprocal altruism: speculative generosity with expectation of future payoff.

Open Source is a textbook example of reciprocal altruism. But this leaves the Open Source community vulnerable to parasitism. (This term comes from game theory; I'm not trying to insult anyone.) In a small group, trust comes from repeated interactions, and personal experience is adequate to recognize parasites and avoid them. But in a large group, interactions between any two people are often indirect and/or infrequent. Something more than experience is needed to engender trust between people who don't know each other, and who may never even meet.

Therefore, any large group must evolve a technology of trust. If it doesn't do so, it will fall victim to rampant parasitism, which will cause inefficiency, which will eventually bring stagnation and failure to compete -- that is, death."

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