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Toward the Open Company 272

Posted by kdawson
from the putting-it-on-the-line dept.
Arto Stimms writes "The author of the e text editor is using the principles of open source to transform his company into an Open Company. Not only is he releasing the source, the company itself becomes totally open: no concept of bosses or employees. Anyone can join in at any time, doing whatever task they find interesting, for whatever time they find appropriate. This is in service of the idea of 'the real freedom zero': the freedom to decide for yourself what you want to work on."
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Toward the Open Company

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 24, 2009 @01:38PM (#27314611)

    ...but without the paycheck.

    • by megamerican (1073936) on Tuesday March 24, 2009 @01:52PM (#27314881)

      However, you can fire yourself and then go collect unemployment.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        No somebody already tried that (quit his own company after the economy went to ____), but the government turned him down. He complained because he had been paying unemployment tax for all those years, but was barred from getting it when he needed it.

        • by Pope (17780)

          At least in Canada, you don't get unemployment insurance if you quit, it's only for people who are laid off.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by MeanMF (631837)
            Same in the US.. But if he's running his own company, it's impossible for him to get fired. So why should he have to pay unemployment insurance?
            • by xaxa (988988)

              What, no comment from a European saying how their welfare state is better*? I'll do it then:

              Here, you get unemployment benefit if you're unemployed and looking for work. It doesn't matter why you're looking for work. You need to provide evidence that you're looking. It's not much (£50/week), since there's other stuff for making sure you have somewhere to live and food to eat (and a PS3 for the kids).

              (*Replace with "worse" if you prefer.)

            • by Zero__Kelvin (151819) on Tuesday March 24, 2009 @03:55PM (#27316819) Homepage

              "At least in Canada, you don't get unemployment insurance if you quit, it's only for people who are laid off."

              "Same in the US."

              Generalizations are always a bad idea! (it's funny; think about it.)

              In Massachusetts you can quit and still collect under certain circumstances, though you may need to go for an appeal. I have done it. In my case my job responsibilities changed drastically . I explained to the appeals officer that they were trying the equivalent of demoting a lawyer to secretary and keeping the title (the new boss was afraid of technology and wanted to do all the testing manually, and I was in charge of SQA at the time). He understood that even with the same title and pay, I would still only have the experience of a secretary to show on my resume for my efforts. Case closed. I got approved via snail mail the next day !

              The best part was wiping the smile off the face of the HR moron who told me he loves to go to appeals and I don't have a chance of winning because he does it all of the time. No I take that back. The best part was explaining to one of the three lawyers that he brought with him to intimidate me that it wasn't as court of law, and he couldn't object. It's like the Visa (Mastercard?) commercial:

              Winning the case: 26 months of income if needed.
              Watching the way the lawyer was on the verge of tears of anger: priceless ! ;-)

          • it often depends how much the company that you worked for responds to the Unemployment folks. Some don't care and let it slide and then your on your way.

            Me, I am living high on my AIG Bonus check.

  • by Thelasko (1196535) on Tuesday March 24, 2009 @01:45PM (#27314731) Journal
    This is the kind of thinking that made the hippie commune into the corporate juggernaut it is today. By "corporate juggernaut" I mean, virtually extinct.

    The best "Open" corporate structure I've ever head of was a company that had a policy where no person could make more than seven times as much money as any other person in the company.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      The best 'Open' corporate structure I've heard of is the John Lewis Partnership in the UK.

      ALL employees are 'partners', from the shelf stackers in Waitrose to the head honcho of the group. Yes the pay varies, but they all get the same bonus as a percentage of their salary.

      The percentage is announced at the same time across all stores. By all accounts it's a very good place to work.

      -Ben

    • by mrlibertarian (1150979) on Tuesday March 24, 2009 @02:14PM (#27315295)
      ...a policy where no person could make more than seven times as much money as any other person in the company.

      Imagine two goods, good A and good B, that are sold on the open market. Good A sells for a price that is eight times greater than good B. Person A was able to produce good A in one day, and person B was able to produce good B in one day. So, on the open market, person A makes eight times more money than person B in the same period of time. That means consumers have judged person A to be eight times more productive than person B, even if person B worked much harder!

      So, if person A and person B happen to be working for the same company, why shouldn't their boss pay person A eight times more than person B? Why should their boss come up with some arbitrary limit?
      • by Aladrin (926209) on Tuesday March 24, 2009 @02:18PM (#27315365)

        If that were the case, the company should seriously think about producing more of good A and less of good B.

        I get that it's a hypothetical, but it's not realistic. You're trying to force a choice when that choice doesn't really need to be made... There are other options.

        • by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Tuesday March 24, 2009 @03:21PM (#27316325)

          Taking it farther, people would only wish to be producing good A, until the point where the market for good A drops in price down to where good B and good A have roughly the same margins.

          Treating people as commodities, you have the present situation in north america. Everyone is in a pile on to be "a leader" (by which I mean CEO), to get the top dollar. Very few people want to be the scientists, engineers, accountants, factory workers, janitors, nurses, etc. required to fund that CEO because the wages are low(er). People choose career paths that will lead them there, which often neglect the company fundamentals.

          Because of this problem, we have a shortage of the types of labor we want, but to avoid the unpleasant solution (amongst decision-makers) of paying higher wages based on need, we have are providing an escape valve via globalization strategies. We can back fill exportable jobs via cheaper foreign labor by taking advantage of arbitrage. This further exacerbates the problem locally, by reinforcing the trend to CEO-type positions (and janitorial/nursing, should that prospect look dim).

          In the long run, assuming no armed revolts, it will ultimately balance out. It's clear the time constant required for stability exceeds the lifetime of most of us here on slashdot. A better solution to achieve control sooner is to reduce the discrepancies in pay, and attempt to change our cultural values away from being "the" boss, to being a solid, reliable individual who is an expert in his chosen field.

          We all know that if you have a company of 80k people, and the ceo goes from getting 100M in a year to 0 in a year, it won't make a huge impact to each employee if spread equally ($1.25k/yr), but it may make a huge impact in driving the labor market the way we need it to.

          If CEOs are chosen based on the person with the best capability of leading organizations and making decisions, other factors removed, rather than the person who most wants to make a fortune... I think good things would happen to our labor market and our corporate governance.

          This isn't quite a hippie commune mentality, wages will vary based on need and difficulty in producing qualified individuals. But it will be more stable than the rabid elitist method we currently use.

          The question is how to produce this ideal when the people who have the money and/or authority who traditionally create and profit from a top-down model won't immediately benefit (or in fact would lose out). Since the investment for software projects is very low (particularly open source), it is interesting to see how ideas like these work and how they could be applied to other areas.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Esc7 (996317)
        I know by your handle this is going to fall on deaf ears but:

        Your theoretical example is perfectly logical. Unfortunately I'm having a hard time transferring it to a real world example in my company, or other companies.

        Now if one person made oranges and the other made gold bars it would make perfect sense. But people don't "make" oranges. They pick them. Or they plant them. Or they tell people when to pick them or plant them. Or they supervise people who tell other people when to pick or plant o
      • by Thelasko (1196535) on Tuesday March 24, 2009 @02:46PM (#27315777) Journal

        Imagine two goods, good A and good B, that are sold on the open market...

        I've been through the economic allegories hundreds of times before. All of us on Slashdot have. I've read the Wikipedia summary of Atlas Shrugged [wikipedia.org] (sorry, I'm not reading it, too high of an opportunity cost), and have been through several semesters of college economics, accounting, and finance.

        I look around today and say to myself, I could run GM, Lehman Brothers, and AIG, into the ground just as well as anybody. Why shouldn't I get paid the big bucks like those guys? The fact is, they aren't worth what they get paid. There is some sort of flaw in that logic. If Ayn Rand was right, engineers would make more money than CEOs.

        Seven times the minimum salary isn't an "arbitrary limit", the owner of the company I mentioned spent quite a bit of time figuring out that amount. At the time I met the owner of that company he was making $350k and the janitor was making $50k. If the janitor wasn't worth $50k, he would fire him, it's that simple. He told me that the janitor was very good at his job, and had been working for him for many years.

        Policies like that encourage people to be conscientious about their work. It also reduces employee turnover, and hostility between the work force and the management. In the end, the company is more efficient because of it.

        • Ayn Rand (Score:3, Insightful)

          by falconwolf (725481)

          I'd say you didn't read "Altas Shrugged" but you already did say it. In it the subject John Galt [wikipedia.org] travels the world to talk business owners to convince them to abandon their business because of socialist governments nationalizing businesses.

          If Ayn Rand was right, engineers would make more money than CEOs.

          It's easier if they start their own business and or work for themselves. Even Bill Gates started as a programmer when he started Microsoft. He was the first person to hack a basic interpreter, the Altai [wikipedia.org]

        • by ClosedSource (238333) on Tuesday March 24, 2009 @03:51PM (#27316757)

          The reason that CEOs get paid more than they are worth is that executive compensation is really a big circle-jerk.

          A CEO of one company is typically a board member of several others. Nobody in the game is motivated to keep salaries in check because they don't want to limit their own.

          In addition, placing a current club member on your board is often required if you want to become a public company.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by CodeBuster (516420)

          Why shouldn't I get paid the big bucks like those guys? The fact is, they aren't worth what they get paid. There is some sort of flaw in that logic.

          The world is frequently NOT a logical place because it is populated by many more stupid people making illogical decisions than smart people making intelligent and rational ones. This results in much of the available capital being concentrated, for various reasons having little to do with relative IQ, in the hands of people who are ambitious, corrupt, and ruthless but not necessarily smart. However, it is simplistic to say that because engineers are not the most wealthy members of society Ayn Rand was absolu

      • by aaandre (526056)

        Because contribution is not only measured by resulting profit. In a company with integrity the commitment goes not only to profit but also to the stakeholders. Maybe person B's project contributes to the company in ways that are not measured in cash.

      • on the open market, person A makes eight times more money than person B in the same period of time.

        Except you don't say how many sales A and B make. If X cost 7 tymes what Y does but they have the same capabilities it's likely more Ys will be sold. I doubt even you will pay 7 tymes what an item cost for the same functionality.

        Falcon

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Capsaicin (412918)

        Imagine two goods, good A and good B, that are sold on the open market. Good A sells for a price that is eight times greater than good B. Person A was able to produce good A in one day, and person B was able to produce good B in one day. So, on the open market, person A makes eight times more money than person B in the same period of time. That means consumers have judged person A to be eight times more productive than person B, even if person B worked much harder!

        Nonesense! Consumers have made no judgment whatsoever about Person A or B's productivity. They have judged Product A to be 8 times as desirable.

        Neither does it follow that Person A "makes eight times more" than Person B. The raw materials, transport and storage costs are significantly higher for Product A, meaning Person A and B earn exactly the same for the same effort over the same amount of time. If they didn't Person B would stop making Product B and make Product A instead this lowering the supply o

    • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Tuesday March 24, 2009 @02:26PM (#27315489) Homepage

      The best "Open" corporate structure I've ever head of was a company that had a policy where no person could make more than seven times as much money as any other person in the company.

      Ben & Jerry tried that, gave it up after a few years... nobody wants to buy $23/quart ice cream and they just couldn't get competent executive management to stick around at 7x the salary of cost competitive labor.

      • by Thelasko (1196535)
        Not that I don't believe you, but do you have a source to back that up?
        • by Thelasko (1196535)
          The says: [nytimes.com]

          Mr. Holland will receive a basic salary of $250,000, more than the socially concerned company has ever paid but not an unusually high salary for a food company of its size.

          $250k/7=$35.7k, This was in 1995, but I'm guessing Ben and Jerry were using some factor smaller than 7 to determine pay. I consider $250k reasonable for a CEO and $36k reasonable for a factory worker.

          • I consider $250k reasonable for a CEO and $36k reasonable for a factory worker.

            In Vermont, perhaps.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by JoeMerchant (803320)

            I consider $250k reasonable for a CEO and $36k reasonable for a factory worker.

            Reasonable, yes. However, if you're CEO of a major international corporation handling bazillions of dollars worth of perishable product and turning better profits than most companies in your sector, you're going to be getting offers much higher than $250k per year, lots of offers.

            Personally, I'd be in favor of capping CEO pay at 7x of the lowest paid employee and allowing him to double that pay in the form of Call options of his choice against company shares. So, if he's making $25K per month, in any g

        • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Tuesday March 24, 2009 @03:35PM (#27316521) Homepage
          Once a cornerstone of its socially responsible identity, the company removed its salary cap on the compensation of its highest paid employee in 1994. The company historically limited the salary of its highest paid employee to no more than five times the salary of the lowest paid worker (though the ratio was revised to seven-to-one in 1993). With the removal of the cap, the gap between the highest and lowest paid employee has risen to unprecedented levels. The ratio was an astounding 16-1 in 1998 and is even higher once the current value of unexercised stock options are factored in! Of course, even under the former stringent salary cap, the ratio was misleading for it did not take into account stock options for executives. http://leda.law.harvard.edu/leda/data/236/Patel,_Tupate_-_Paper.html [harvard.edu]
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by alen (225700)

      very easy to set up, just outsource all the low paying stuff to contractors

    • Actually in Mondragon in the Basque country they have worker-cooperatives working as a corporate structure, but everyone else who tries it seem to behave like dumb hippies by overemphasizing the "worker-owned" bit and leaving the "business" to rot.

  • sit on my ass (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mikey177 (1426171)
    so i can sit on my ass reading slashdot all day and say that i am contributing to research and development.
    • by Kell Bengal (711123) on Tuesday March 24, 2009 @01:48PM (#27314807)
      That's disconcertingly close to what I actually do.
    • by Quothz (683368)

      so i can sit on my ass reading slashdot all day and say that i am contributing to research and development.

      Sure, but by the model they've outlined, you won't earn anything for it unless other contributors find it valuable.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by stevied (169) *

        Sure, but by the model they've outlined, you won't earn anything for it unless other contributors find it valuable.

        And they might. Back in the late 90s, I spent "far too much time" reading and browsing when I should have been coding, but the flip side was that I knew just enough about all sorts of emerging technologies to judge whether it was worth us investing them, and to recommend them to my colleagues. (The running joke became that I knew everything, but actually I knew just enough about a lot of things

  • It's just like staying in the comfort of your own home, indulging in your hobby of programming, only you're somewhere else!

    • by Quothz (683368)

      It's just like staying in the comfort of your own home, indulging in your hobby of programming, only you're somewhere else!

      Exactly like that, except you would not, in fact, be somewhere else. Oh, and you get money (if the company makes any, and you've contributed). So basically, it's just like the opposite of what you said, except for the word "programming".

  • by Chris Missiles (1505239) on Tuesday March 24, 2009 @01:50PM (#27314845)
    I think the new buzzword for this is "crowdsourcing".
  • Cool (Score:5, Funny)

    by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Tuesday March 24, 2009 @01:51PM (#27314857)

    They can invent "Open Bankruptcy" next. Call me when they reach "Open Assets Selloff" by the creditors.

    What? Too cynical? Is that even possible anymore?

  • Want a glimpse of how this works out? Think about Karma on slashdot or karma on reddit. If you've participated attentively in either of those systems you already know how problematic this will be.
     
    First time I read Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, I thought the idea of huffy was pretty cool. Since then, seeing how such popularity systems work on the web has made me realize it may not be that great a system.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by YttriumOxide (837412)

      Want a glimpse of how this works out? Think about Karma on slashdot or karma on reddit. If you've participated attentively in either of those systems you already know how problematic this will be.

      Honestly, I've seen a lot of people complain about the Karma/moderation system on slashdot, but I've never seen a problem with it. I actually find it works quite well (for me at least). If I'm having a really bad day and write a flamebait sort of post, it'll generally be modded as such. The majority of my posts don't get modded at all, and when I write something that particularly interests people, it tends to get up-modded accordingly.

      It may just be that I've never been targetted by any of those types th

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Qzukk (229616)

        The most recurring complaint I've seen with the slashdot mod system is from people complaining that it enforces groupthink. In otherwords, it's perfect for a corporate environment.

        • I can see how groupthink could occur from such a system, but I really don't think it does happen all that much in reality. If you look at the comments on any article, you'll generally find quite a lot of "disagreement" and people being modded up (and down) on both sides of any debate. I'll concede that it may be bad for completely "off the side" arguments in some cases, but I really don't think all. I also think that a trust metrics system as proposed in TFA would work even better, since it'd be mostly f
          • Speaking from personal experience, the system is broken. On two separate occasions, I've gone from the karma cap to neutral or bad, just because I got involved in a lively debate, and had the nerve to take up a position the moderators that day disagreed with.

            So yes, it does happen. It happened to me twice.

            • Are you sure it was your position that they were disagreeing with and not the way that you said it?

              Remember, people on the 'net can't see you or hear the way your post sounds in your own head. For that reason, I am generally very careful to phrase my posts in such a way as to remove as much ambiguity about my thoughts as possible, and also reply in as civil a manner as possible to avoid my manner being misconstrued as anything else (except on the aforementioned bad days, when I quite rightly deserve flameb

  • Great idea! Why don't you all come and work for my company for free!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I bet the have no janitor...

  • 'the real freedom zero': the freedom to decide for yourself what you want to work on.

    What happens when nobody wants to do the unglamorous, low paying work?

    • What happens when nobody wants to do the unglamorous, low paying work?

      Exactly. There are some parts of the code which are downright ugly, hard to write/fix, unpopular to even discuss, and when implemented will only be seen by a tiny percentage of users - but without which (esp. when accumulated with other unpopular stuff) the software will only compete as an also-ran.

      This is the problem with Linux and other OSS projects: in a complex system, every user will run across something which is in this "unpopular"

    • # mnp Says:
      March 24th, 2009 at 9:53 am

      Who will do the unpleasant jobs in the business, say, cleaning the bathroom or cold calling or arranging financing, and how will they be compensated, by the same rating system?

      Well, none of those are an issue in the company as it is now, and I don't expect it to become so in the future (the benefits of running a virtual company with low overheads). But obviously there are some activities that are less attractive than others.

      I expect that there will be some participants who will identify enough with the company that they are willing to do those tasks when they show up (I know I will feel that way), especially if their income increases when the company is succesfull.

      Italicized part is from the owner.

    • by nschubach (922175)

      Someone will vote up the poor SOB that had to go in and clean up those sections. Maybe even a couple people will.

  • by mattdm (1931) on Tuesday March 24, 2009 @02:10PM (#27315245) Homepage
    From the blog post:

    The source will be made a available, so that users can study and modify the application for their own needs. If they want to contribute their changes back, they can submit them for review. To discourage piracy, a tiny but essential core (also containing the licensing code), will be kept private (at least until users reach a certain rating).

    Earlier in the post it says "The central dilemma of Open Source is, and has always been, how to make a living doing it" -- but then it turns out that the actual plan is a non sequitur.

  • by Samschnooks (1415697) on Tuesday March 24, 2009 @02:13PM (#27315283)
    Digging through the references, I got here [wikipedia.org]. Then I saw this

    Slashdot introduced its notion of karma, earned for activities perceived to promote group effectiveness, an approach that has been very influential in later virtual communities.

    So, to get paid more, you just say that Apple did it better and the Microsoft's version sucks and the best implementation is in Linux?

    And to get vacation do you post stuff to get "Funny" ratings like; "Imagine a Beowulf cluster of e-editors" or "In Soviet Russia the e-Editor you!" and then there's the "All your e-Editors are belong to us!"

    Yep, the Open Business, sounds like a great way for the Karma whore to make a living!

  • rule of thumb: if your plans for a group/ community/ company/ society relies upon people acting dependably in ways no group of humans have ever acted, in any society, in the history of the world, its gonna fail

    human nature is what it is. learn its good parts, learn its ugly parts, and don't imagine you are ever going to change them

  • Unfair. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Aladrin (926209) on Tuesday March 24, 2009 @02:29PM (#27315521)

    The system is supposed to ensure fairness by having employees rate each other, but I know how this goes simply by watching people around me, in person and in real life.

    Every 'contest' I've ever seen has been about popularity, not efficiency. They guy who sucks up to everyone and buys them beers after work will have the highest pay, while the guy who does his shitty job in silent magnificence will have one of the lowest pays. In addition, everyone in a group will rate their own group members higher than they rate other group's members. This means the biggest group will have the highest average pay as well.

    Absolutely none of it will be based on efficiency or profitability.

    That is, assuming it's truly 'open' and not just claiming it and then having the owner overrule everything anyhow.

  • Wikipedia (Score:3, Funny)

    by Chelloveck (14643) on Tuesday March 24, 2009 @02:52PM (#27315849) Homepage

    Oh boy, a text editor with all the quality and accuracy of a Wikipedia article. I can't wait for the first edit war between two high-ranking programmers.

  • by nurb432 (527695) on Tuesday March 24, 2009 @04:29PM (#27317501) Homepage Journal

    Let me know how that works out, especially when what you are smoking runs out.

  • by Lord Bitman (95493) on Tuesday March 24, 2009 @06:24PM (#27320315) Homepage

    but we have enough trouble with people doing direct rips of our site /without/ providing the source code.

    Yeah, I know that GPL uses copyright law too, but the problem is we're dealing all the time with people who don't respect copyright law. Exposing our code would just make it easier for people to rip us off.

    Most I can push for at work is "Let's not actively obfuscate anything we're sending over anyway".

Real Users find the one combination of bizarre input values that shuts down the system for days.

Working...