New Information Infrastructure Commons

New Information Infrastructure Commons

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1622-6.ch008


This chapter explores the characteristics of new and emerging information infrastructures. In particular, the chapter focuses on Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) projects, exploring what makes individuals and communities contribute code and ideas towards a FOSS product, but also how they negotiate and eventually agree on a set of institutional rules for structuring their collective action. The chapter also examines the emerging attributes of mashup projects and the ways that, once again, individuals and communities design and structure their contribution. The chapter concludes with some implications for further research on and around these new information infrastructures.
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Since the 1960s when ARPANET was created, researchers have looked for ways to continue to formulate new approaches for global collaboration. As a result, over the last two decades or so, the Internet has moved from a domain utilized primarily by high-skilled computer scientists, engineers, and others in high-tech industries to a network of users with diverse expertise and educational background. This environment, where digital files can be copied and transferred globally in an instant and at very little cost, makes it much easier to treat information as a global public good. However, while general information can be considered a public good, specific information leading to the development of a product, e.g. software code, is a form of intellectual property. There are, however, new, alternative models of global Internet-based collaboration that represent a form of commons (Dietz, Ostrom, & Stern, 2003).

Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) is an exemplar of such models, where communities of skilled users operate collectively to produce a good (i.e. the software) through a common property regime (Benkler, 2002; Boyle, 2003; Schweik, 2007). This means that the development of FOSS is based on property rights (McGowan, 2001), whereby some individuals involved have rights to how the code is written (i.e. operational rights), have control over what goes into future versions of the code (i.e. collective-choice rights), and can exclude others from submitting new code to a new release (i.e. constitutional rights) (Schweik, 2005). One gains rights to a FOSS project by either: (1) being the person or group who started the project from scratch; (2) being someone who has received authority from the original owner to take the lead in future maintenance and development efforts; (3) being a person who takes over a project that is widely recognized as abandoned and makes a legitimate effort to locate the original author(s) and gets permission to take over ownership; and (4) a “hostile takeover”–where the project can be hijacked or “forked” (i.e. two competing versions of the same project) because of the “new derivative works” permissions provided by the license (Raymond, 2001; McGowan, 2001).

These rights are configured by determining three groups of attributes: the design and structure of institutional rules; the community of FOSS participants; and the material characteristics of the information infrastructure that supports their interaction. As in the two empirical case studies discussed earlier in the book, these attributes will be negotiated in ongoing interactions between new and old participants and their interests. Similarly, it is argued that (Weber, 2004, pp.189):

the open source process is an ongoing experiment. It is testing an imperfect mix of leadership, informal coordination mechanisms, implicit and explicit norms, along with some formal governance structures that are evolving and doing so at a rate that has been sufficient to hold surprisingly complex systems together.

Another example of a new information infrastructure commons is the technological capability provided by web applications and tools to weave data from different sources into a new data source or service–i.e. mashups. The term ‘mashups’ implies easy and fast combination, aggregation, and visualization of diverse sources of raw data–most often using open application processing interfaces (API) and data sources (Bolin et al., 2005; Faaborg & Lieberman, 2006; Fujima et al., 2004). Mashups are a direct evolution of Web 1.0 Internet models, through which providers used to store user data on portals and then updated them regularly. Providers controlled all user data, and users had to utilize their products and services to retrieve the information. With the advent of Web 2.0 a new proposition has been created, using Web standards that are commonly and widely adopted across infrastructures, while allowing users to mix and match existing services to create new ones. These include business mashups (e.g. enterprise mashups that expose actionable information from diverse internal and external information sources) (Schroth & Christ, 2007), consumer mashups (e.g. Wikipedia), and data mashups (i.e. combination of diverse resources to create a new and distinct Web service that was not originally provided by either source) (Benslimane et al., 2008; Sheth et al, 2007).

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