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Participation as the Open Currency

June 8, 2011 - 0 Comments

I’ve been watching the ongoing battles over Microformats vs RDFa with some interest, not only because the underlying subject is interesting, but also because of some of the excellent quality of the discourse around how open communities function (or don’t as the case may be) that surround it.

Henri Sivonen has an excellent post on the Microformats vs RDFa… which also includes rather a lot of wise commentary about communities. One of the many things that jumped out at me was his description of the response to asking #whatwg for a proper spec for Microformats (so that he could write a validator):

The answer at the time was basically that if you want a proper spec, you should be the one doing the heavy lifting of writing one.
This attitude makes sense in a way. If you want to defend the community against detractors, you shouldn’t allow situations where a random commenter says something that’s cheap to the commenter to say but expensive for the community to address. Making the commenter put his money where his mouth is an effective way to weed out commenters who aren’t serious.

On the face of it, this would seem to be a very elementary observation. After all, it’s simply the age old formula of measuring how much something is valued by peoples willingness to sacrifice for it. In our normal cash-based economy, we do it all the time by trading our hard earned dollars for the effort of other people. But time and again, I see people missing this point. Coming into an open community and asking for something, without offering any sacrifice to re-enforce that interest.

Big companies are particularly bad about this, acustomed as they are to their simple expression of interest being seen as a precursor to business. But open communities aren’t in business in the traditional sense. There’s no good mechanism to directly express your interest to the community in dollars… that’s just not how it’s done (and honestly, that’s part of why the outcomes often work out so well, because you can’t simply buy them).

But *all* human interaction has it’s currency, and in the absence of dollars, often in open communities that currency is participation: contributing in kind what that community needs. In open standards communities, it can be working on a formal spec as in the example above. In an open source community it is most often contributing code, but can also be contributing other needful things (documentation, testing, etc).

So patch the change you want to see in the world… that’s the currency of Open 🙂

What change in an open community would you like to see, and what do you think you could contribute to encourage that change?

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