Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Evolution of Cooperation

For some time in the Eclipse community, several people have repeatedly discussed the Tragedy of the Commons problem, and it's applicability to Eclipse.  In short, as 'platforms', Eclipse and OSGi can be seen as a kind of 'commons' that we all use and benefit from...for creating developer tooling/IDEs, for creating web servers, for creating mobile applications, etc.

The problem being that this 'commons'...if not sufficiently supported and maintained, will degrade over time...and all of us that depend upon, use, and in some cases profit from this commons will suffer from that degradation.   Some of us in this community (committers) feel that such degradation has been occurring...and continues to occur.  Even though many of us (including me) expend a lot of personal time/effort/expense to continue to support the community.

The question seems to be:  how do you get everyone to cooperate in order to maintain the commons?   Where 'cooperation' means real cost, and real effort on everyone's part.   It seems to me that a big part of the difficulty of doing this is that you have to get not just individuals (committers/people technically capable and knowledgeable enough about Eclipse to actually maintain things), but also both small and large corporations to recognize the need for cooperation and respond to it with more than what I would call lip service ('sure we'll pay for the EF, but we won't pay 8 full-time committers to work on maintaining the platform').   I've pointed out before that small and large groups have different ways of thinking about cooperation...aka collective action...and I further would assert that individuals have a totally different calculation about whether cooperation to maintain a commons even makes sense for them.

In any event, in a previous life I did research work in the psychology of judgment and decision making, and one of my areas of interest was in game theory and the prisoner's dilemma.  As part of this work I read a fascinating book called the Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod.  The main message of this work (by my interpretation) is that cooperative behavior..coming from self-interest...can be learned.  In my view this work opens up possibilities for solutions to the commons problem...but the hard nut (IMHO) is that group/org learning is an order of magnitude more difficult than individual learning.    And of course...individual learning of the self-interested benefits of cooperation is hard/slow enough.


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1 Comments:

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12:30 PM, October 26, 2015  

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