Okay, what is the difference between Wikipedia and Digg – two profitable websites that allow users to post information and share it without paying for user contributions and StackOverflow that does the same thing?
Sure, you can argue that StackOverflow is helpful to fellow developers, but I bet that 5% of the users post most of the answers. Certainly they’re not getting out what they put in! All they’re doing is sharecropping for StackOverflow!
I look at it a bit differently. StackOverflow deserves its money because it organized the information to be useful to users. Users who post most of the answers are building up reputations that can help them with their careers. Plus, by seeing what others are doing, it is helping them understand their software better.
I would say the same with Wikipedia. It’s turned into a treasure trove of useful – if not always accurate – information. What do contributors get out of spending so much time at sites like Facebook and ThisNext.com? I really can’t say. Many they’re also building reputations that helps them with their career. Maybe they’re making on line friends. But, I am not going to say that people are being used because they’re free labor for for-profit websites.
As long as you know there’s no money involved, I think it’s fine, and self-limiting,
unlike many “Free and Open Source” projects I’ve seen which look like methods to
sucker (Oops! I meant “harness”) the mom’s-basement kids into writing
business-oriented software systems for free.
Obvious ThatGuyInTheBack has no idea how Open Source Software even works. Almost 90% of the people who contribute to Linux are actually paid to work on Linux. They work for Google, IBM, Palm, and other companies that heavily depend upon Linux for their business. These companies find people who know Linux inside and out to help their company, and these people spend much of their time working on the Linux kernel itself.
Look at almost all of the big OSS projects, and you’ll see that most are actually developed by paid employees. This includes FireFox, WebKit, Subversion, KDE, Gnome, and the entire range of Apache projects. Most of the OSS packages is written by people who are paid to code those packages.
When there are college students doing extensive coding, they are either paid interns via projects like Google’s Summer of Code or are also learning and building reputations which will help them in their future career.
The idea that OSS software is built by a bunch of geeky kids in their Mom’s basement is used by companies that build proprietary software to smear their OSS competitors.