Wednesday, 08 November, 2000
I ran across FreeDevelopers.net the other day, and I'm not sure what to make of it. The web page describes it as "a democratic entity for the development of free software." The company is to be owned and run by developers in a democratic fashion, will pay its developers to work on free software, give them shares and stock options, and all software will be licensed under the GPL. The first sentence describing the company's structure reads:
Our basic idea is that we will replace the traditional corporate governance apparatus (which is more a command-and-control, tyrannical system) with one that is more like the democratic governance system envisioned in the U.S. Constitution.
Their October 31 press release says that their objective is "to have e-voting free software ready for the next presidential election in 2004." A laudable goal, to be sure, but probably unachievable given the proposed company structure.
A company that's structured like the democratic governance system envisioned in the U.S. Constitution would be terribly ineffective. The Constitution's primary focus is to limit government power and protect the rights and property of its citizens. The Constitution severely limits the government's ability to enforce its will on the people. (Whether today's government is anything like the Framers envisioned is debatable, but beside the point.)
A company, on the other hand, is an entity composed of people working toward a common goal. However, not everybody agrees on the goal (some just want to get paid), and not everybody agrees on how to get there. A company must have a hierarchical command-and-control structure so that it can focus the work of its employees. The company must have the ability to force its will (as defined by the Board of Directors or in the case of FreeDevelopers, its congress of developers) on its employees. You can call the Board of Directors anything you like, and select them however you want, but at some point somebody's getting paid for giving the orders and others are paid for following them (or fired for not following them).
Without a hierarchical command-and-control structure there is no accountability. Without accountability there's nothing: no control of what is created, no deadlines, and no way to ensure that a developer is doing what he's being paid to do.
If you can explain to me how a company structured in this manner can be at all effective, please do. I'm all ears.