Mary Saville

Educator - STEM, ACTS Homeschool Teaching Support

This conversation is closed.

'Tis better to give (for free) than to receive (money). Go.

To open-source or to hoard, that is the question.

I work hard at what I do (so do you) and like the thought of getting paid for intellectually novel property, mostly because I like food and I have to pay for food. I also want as many people as possible to see/hear/experience what I have to share. (I'm not specifying exactly what it is I'm talking about b/c this is relevant to everyone who makes stuff for a living.)

So, esteemed Tedsters, help me see the light. Do I post content open-sourced online, better society, and find another way to make money, or market and sell withholding rights? Is this a false dichotomy?

Thanks in advance for any replies, and trust that you will heavily influence what I do. In case you really can't comment without knowing the category, it's educational curriculum.

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    Mar 31 2011: Mary, you could try to do what some people do and give away what’s digital and charge for what isn’t. Girl Talk gives away his albums for free but makes money off of his concerts. You can try to build a name for yourself and then try to sell books to people who prefer books. You could think ecologically – by improving other people’s wellbeing, you’re improving your own environment, which could very well help you out in the long run, even if you don’t see it directly.

    In the case of intellectual work, some find that the more they give away the more they then have to give away – this is possibly a feature of “use it or lose it” in the brain, partly idea karma, or maybe having an impact just feels good, and giving forces people to seek out more to give away.

    Altruism was naturally selected for for a reason, and evolution tends to repeat solutions in later generations/iterations, probably due to some fundamental properties of nature, e.g. that 5>1. You could think of your cells as confederacies of unicellular organisms working together for the good of the super-organism.

    This is in contrast to the Ayn Randian view in which the individual is supreme and independent. Her view is attractive, because we’re animals and we seek to be strong/high status, but it’s maladaptive to the extent that it does not accurately reflect the nature of human achievement/wellbeing. You don’t see Howard Roark’s parents or siblings, you don’t see the contribution of the community to his achievements, and the world isn’t so starkly divided into the ‘collectivist weak” and the “individualist strong.”

    Capitalism and our current laws/institutions work fairly well in situations of scarcity, but they don't work so well in a world in which everything can be recreated for free. Our institutions don't reflect the new realities of the digital age; I hope we don't have to wait until all the old people die before we see beneficial changes. Until then, though, I vote share + paypal :)
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      Mar 31 2011: Very nicely stated, and compelling. I agree with you on the social benefits of free idea sharing, of improving our collective knowledge. That is definitely the most attractive thing. I also would not be able to do what I am doing now without free online notes on blogging, curriculum development, STEM literature, and so on. I am indebted already to those who didn't want debt from others.

      The material vs. the digital is a good place for me to camp out and think. The ease of online content vs. the convenience of having a tangible product: this may be the intersection of free vs. charged. Online summaries, ideas and strategies = free, booklets in hand with materials = cost, and of course if I make oodles of money I can give away or better yet partner with someone who really knows who needs it in a physical form and can't afford it.
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    Apr 5 2011: Very interesting!
    I believe that posting free materials is a great cause...better not to get paid for...the "true value" isn't affordable by single donor but yourself...because you're the only one who knows the true value !
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      Apr 6 2011: I am continuing to ponder such things. My passion for spreading ideas feels like it is fighting with my frugal, concerned nature... freespending vs. saving, almost. I can't say that I'm even anticipating zillions of dollars, not at all, but what is enough to live on, and where does it come from? Does freesourcing become my hobby while I need some other field to "earn" money from?

      I see many bloggers with ads on their sites (I haven't done this as yet), which is a combination of freesharing and optional buy-in by visitors. Is this profitable, livable?

      I have also noted a very strange phenomenon in my teaching/tutoring, which is outside the mainstream system so I am free to charge what I wish. From time to time I offer instruction at no cost for students in difficult circumstances. What is so very odd is that for the most part, about 90% of the time, the free-learning students do not complete the work, attend less and overall, respect the instruction less. Why is that, and does it relate to this discussion?
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    Apr 1 2011: I AGREE SO MUCH. and i pratice this. i believe the money i work for, is not worked very hard for, should be used for those around me. and i do.
  • Mar 30 2011: I'm not sure you are being fair to yourself when you use the word "hoard" as the alternative to open source. If you were making briefcases, would you expect to give them away in order to "better society" or would you sell them for a price that allowed you to make a reasonable profit? What is the difference between a physical item and intellectual property in this respect? If what you create has value, I see nothing unethical in realizing that value, and sometimes trying to sell something is the very best way to find out if it does, indeed, have value! If your beliefs are that making money is grubby and is done at the expense of others, then sell enough to pay the rent and buy food and then give the rest away, or reduce the price, or give discounts to worthy institutions, or whatever.
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      Mar 30 2011: That is a fair point. I think I am trying to digest the trends of open-information and courseware that are being advocated many places, TED included. You're right, making money isn't grubby, but I do wonder if I should give or charge when I see how many are making their ideas available free. Is it that they have the luxury of doing that because they are employed or tenured? How are they eating if they give away all their property?
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      Mar 31 2011: Revett, the difference between a briefcase and ideas/information, is that ideas can be recreated at zero marginal cost. If you could recreate any briefcase for free for every person on Earth, why would it be okay to exclude people who need and want briefcases from having them, just because they couldn't afford to pay you? Particularly if you lived in a society in which other people were giving you free things all the time?

      On top of which, it's much harder to gauge the value of an idea before the person has given it to you already, unlike a briefcase. And once they have the idea, they can give it away for free and/or charge for it somehow, etc.

      This is also the problem with the paywall newspaper model - all it takes is one person inside the paywall to recreate whatever anyone else wants to read for free, and the paywall is broken.

      I could give 30 ideas to a younger person right now that would completely rock his life, and he would be able to use them for the rest of his life. They may turn him into a better, happier, smarter, and more productive member of society than he would have been otherwise. But once he has the idea, he can share it with other people, and so my idea/expertise is less special/valuable/scarce than it was before.

      Which is why I advocate some sort of hybrid between socialism and capitalism. On the one hand, people should be rewarded for work and innovation. On the other hand, capitalism can't and doesn't capture/reward all the good people do or are capable of doing. And on the third hand, capitalism primarily rewards ownership of capital, not contribution to society.

      Charging for ideas creates artificial exclusion/scarcity, which is just wrong. I've benefited from enough people who've given away their ideas/work for free that it seems grubby to be stingy with those "gains." Those people, their friends, and descendants maybe could use my help - "Today you, tomorrow me."
      • Mar 31 2011: Yes, Bill, I understand what you are saying. But just because other people give away the fruits of their labour, does that mean Mary should automatically do so too? Who knows the circumstances of people who populate Wikipedia or add funtionality to Linux or whatever? I think each of us has to find a personal balance between chasing the American dream (or even just paying the rent) and contributing to society, and there is nothing wrong with charging for one's work, whether it is a tangible product or just intellectual property.

        The NYT story of the Good Samaritan is heartwarming but irrelevant.