A trend that I’ve noticed with the rise of “Web 2.0″ and open source software is something that I call Digital Communism. The concept is similar to regular Communism in the sense that everyone pitches in for the good of the populace, but doesn’t relate to economic systems as much as it does our digital lifestyles and software. Here I will present the different classes of users that power Digital Communism so that I can better illustrate what it all means.
There are many ways that people contribute to the Digital Collective. People write articles in Wikipedia, upload videos to YouTube and submit news articles to Digg. None of the people doing this get any sort of financial gain, but rather do it because they want to share their knowledge and media with others. In reality, a lot of it is probably powered by the narcissism of the current generation wanting to be noticed in an increasingly anonymous society, but it’s a different type of currency than money; it’s social currency.
In the realm of open-source software, these are the people that submit their code to the world for scrutiny and improvement. They are people like Linus Torvalds, who started a small software project as a hobby that eventually turned into Linux, which is the operating system that powers the Web 2.0 revolution.
Contributors make up about 1% of a particular community’s user base.
There are also many users that don’t necessarily contribute to the Digital Collective, but they actively participate by leaving opinions, correcting mistakes or tagging items. Rather than create uniquely new content, they edit, critique and help organize the contributions of others. In some communities, this has the great benefit of improving the work and offering alternative perspectives. In others, it is not so valuable.
Participants in the open-source community are extremely valuable as they find and report bugs, help fix bugs or even assist with documentation. Some might say that the participants are even more valuable than the contributors as they help improve the quality of the raw contribution.
Participants make up about 10% of a particular community’s user base.
The major critique of Communism is that not everyone does their fair share and that holds true in Digital Communism. The passive users of the Digital Collective are the ones that absorb the information but do not interact with it. They read, they watch and they listen but they do not want to be heard. However, that does not mean they are without value. Without consumers, production would be for naught.
Users in the open-source community give a particular product a base of users, which increases its clout as a product. Firefox claims to have almost 400 million downloads, which gives it a lot more exposure than if it was only used by some guy in his basement.
Also, over time users tend to become participants, who then in turn become contributors. One example of this is Facebook, which used memcached to make its site faster, but then needed to make it better so they fixed some bugs and now they’re the biggest contributor of code to the project.
Passive users make up about 89% of a particular community’s user base.
As you can see, the different types of users reflect the different statuses of the users. In fact, the distribution of users sort of resembles the distribution of the medieval caste system. Back then, you had one ruler with a small group of advisors and aristocrats, and a huge lower class of peasants working in the fields.
The industrial revolution then brought many of the lower class up into the middle class. The real question is if the same will happen with Digital Communism. If a large majority of the users start participating with the media, what would happen? It could either trigger the Golden Age of Information or perhaps go the complete other way and degrade the quality of information by saturation. It will be interesting to see how it all turns out.