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As a maverick between arts and culture, business, IT, and many more topics that are of minor or even major interest to me I also read the occasional business analysis piece. This morning an essay by Nicolas G. Carr, contributing editor to strateg+business1. The essay is a review of one famous paper by Eric S. Raymond2 entitled The Cathedral and the Bazar.

To fill you in briefly on Raymond’s paper: it was first presented at a Linux conference in Würzburg, Germany, on 22 May 1997. And it caused a major stir; Raymond for the first time put into writing the ethics of the open source community — the bazaar model — where many people contribute to one product, say Linux for example, with seemingly no central control. Raymond contrasts this to the cathedral model where there is a closed group of developers (or authors).

In his review of the paper, 10 years after its initial publication, Nicolas G. Carr says: ‘ The open source model has proven to be an extraordinarily powerful way to refine programs that already exist (…) but it has proven less successful at creating exciting new programs from scratch.’ This is not a new critique, Lawrence Kesteloot noticed the same in an email to Raymond in March 1998.

Actually, even Raymond himself — if one is inclined to actually read the paper — noticed this quite explicitly indeed: ‘It’s fairly clear, that one cannot code from the ground up in bazaar style. One can test, debug and improve in bazaar style, but it would be very hard to originate a project in bazaar mode.’3

So, after ten years of bazaar-hype — which has only recently been picked up by corporations and guru writers4 — it is about time that people actually acknowledge that the bazaar is all about debugging and not about creating, and that there is — despite all the advantages the bazaar model has over the cathedral model (imho) — such a thing as individual creativity.

One last thought — individual creativity is sometimes best harnessed in a collective setting. Or isn’t that how authors publish their books — in exchange with agents, lectors, publishers (call it ‘debugging’ if you want) — or how Brecht wrote ‘his’ plays?

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  3. see and also Raymond’s discussion here []
  4. Don Tapscott’s and Anthony D. Williams’ Wikinomic is just one example []