Security expert and tech curmudgeon Bruce Sterling famously quipped at this year’s South-by-Southwest conference that “I don’t think there will be that many [blogs] around in 10 years. I think they are a passing thing.” This got the blogosphere all a-twitter (ahem), but I think enough time has passed that we can look past this ill-worded point from Sterling’s SXSW rant and get to the real moneyline:
“You are never going to see a painting by committee that is a great painting.”
And he’s right. This was Sterling’s indictment of Wikipedia–and to the “wisdom of crowds” fad sweeping the Web 2.0 pitch sessions of Silicon Valley–but it’s also a fair assessment of what holds most (not all) open source enterprises back: Lack of vision.
Nearly all great innovation comes from a singular vision pursued doggedly until it achieves success. Apple is a great example of this, as the company didn’t really resume its cutting-edge status (for better or worse) until Steve Jobs returned, and gave us the iMac and iPod (for better or worse). And say what you will about Microsoft, but it was Bill Gates singular vision for Windows and the software industry that drove his company to its excess…er, success.
Opening your project up to an unreliable parade of volunteer contributors allows for a great, lowest-common-denominator consensus product. That’s fine for Wikipedia, but I wouldn’t count on any grand intellectual discourse arising therein. Same goes for most software developed by this method–almost all the great open source apps are me-too knockoffs of innovative proprietary programs, and those that are original were almost always created under the watchful eye of a passionate, insightful overseer or organization. Firefox is actually Mozilla Firefox, after all.
It’s this necessity of vision, however, that will make blogs survive. “Blogs” as a catchphrase is meaningless; they’re just a platform that makes it easy to publish text and media to the Web. It’s mistaking a tool for a trend, and I’m sure the shine will wear off in a few years, when those blogging for trendiness’ sake hop on the next fad. But by allowing bloggers to write and publish without need for the middling assistance of technicians–by simply letting writers write–they afford a singular vision, rather than block it. And that is why they’ll survive.