Mosh Pits, Open Source, and Knowledge Sharing

Sharing knowledge, instead of hoarding it, is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the modern Internet communities (call it Web 2.0 if you like) and was the subject of a recent blog entry by Kathy Sierra titled “Mosh Pit as Innovation Model“. She offered this tidbit of wisdom:

‘Issac Newton said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” That was just fine in a world where knowledge doubled in half-centuries, not mere months. To make progress today, it’s more like, “If I have seen further, it is by being thrown up by the mosh pit of my peers.” And we all get a turn.’ (Kathy Sierra)

It has been about 15 years since my last visit to a mosh pit, and I woke up with a bruised face, so maybe my view of the mosh pit is not quote as idealistic as this; however, Sierra has exactly the right idea. Most of us have probably worked with an information hoarder at some point in our lives and know how counter productive it can be. These people act as a bottleneck preventing us from doing our jobs and slowing the pace of progress to a grinding halt. On the other hand, the information sharers facilitate progress and help make things happen.

The knowledge sharing model is one reason that open source software has been so successful. Innovation can happen more readily when people freely share their ideas and encourage their use. Sierra points out that it is the implementation, not the idea, that stimulates change. In open source people share ideas and share the implementation of those ideas. This knowledge sharing combined with a focus on implementation has helped open source projects like Firefox innovate ahead of their proprietary competitors.

This knowledge sharing also makes the blogosphere so powerful. We share our own ideas with others, read what others have to say, and react to the thoughts of others in a way that stimulates thinking and creativity. I blog about all sorts of topics that I would never have spent time thinking about if I had not read about the topic in another blog via my RSS feeds, TechMeme or some other random link. This sharing of knowledge makes each of a little bit better as we consume the knowledge of others and share our own wisdom.

Picture from Creating Passionate Users.