Open Source is not Altruism

David A. Wheeler made clear that Open Source is indeed commercial. Let’s iron out another misunderstanding: Open Source is not altruism!

The confusion – that Open Source is based on altruism – is a dreadful mistake. Speakers who argue that it happens due to the unselfish concern of developers for others, are simply unable to understand what is happening.

Those who say Open Source is altruism think of knowledge as a scarce resource, that only altruistic persons would share. The opposite is true: knowledge is an abundant good. For “trading” it, you get attention, trust, authority, etc. – all the things that help you to further develop your expertise and be successful.

As long as you don’t understand that point, you won’t understand the knowledge economy of Open Source. To extend Wheeler’s statement: Open Source is commercial when it comes to making money as well as “buying” knowledge with knowledge. This has nothing to do with altruism.

3 thoughts on “Open Source is not Altruism

  1. I quite agree. Open Source doesn’t mean that we give something away for free. It means, we try to encourage people to give their ideas and contributions to our use.

    This is exactly where we aim with our research that starts on March 05, 2007. We’ll launch an interactive Web 2.0 concept in China to examine how a social network grows from zero to one million. The theory says, the growth will follow the Fisher-Pry curve (s-curve). However, it can be a linear or a bell curve as well.

    This is an Open Source research project, i.e. any serious researcher (or student) can obtain background information and the statistics that the software collects. Thgs is clearly the “altruism part”. The “Selfishness part” is, though, we await all collaborative researchers to share the results with us in non-commercial contextes.

    If any of you is interested in this OS project, you can read more or even join at:


  2. For the reasons you enumerate, and for many others, free software indeed exists mostly because it is profitable to those who produce and support it. But I disagree with the way you present this as not being altruistic. Altruism is not an attitude born of ethical reasonings : altruism is strategic egoism !

    This article ( ) makes a good job of presenting how game theory demonstrates how altruism is for social animals like us the best strategy to maximize profit.

    Self interest and social development are aligned after all… Isn’t it beautiful ?


  3. @Jean-Marc: I totally agree with you – maybe my initial post is not clear enough. Yes, “altruism is strategic egoism”! Also, thanks for the pointer.


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