Digital Outlaws: “the cathedral and the bazaar” and “the commons”

Söderberg brings up the claim made by Eric Raymond about two opposed styles of development of free software (open resource): the cathedral and the bazaar (2016).


The Cathedral style is the conventional and closed development style. It is based on a central plan and has strict and specified rules. The way the software project work needs to obey a fairly hierarchical authoritarian manner. Much like a cathedral that has been elaborately designed out of people’s sight before it open. Think about the leading company Microsoft. It develops all its software using Cathedral model. The early phase of software development is dominant by cathedral style because only few companies like Microsoft has the resource. So they prefer to keep the commercial secret for their own sake. When Microsoft sold their computers, they provide their software free, which makes small software business hard to live and support their better inventions. It’s an economic model that the core technique held by upper elites and normal people have no choice but use and obey it. Accordingly, the release intervals are rather long because it takes more time to find out and fix problems if only a small group of people control the development.

On the contrary, the Bazaar model exposes the code to the public, and different developers collaborate to improve the software’s function. Linux and Apache are well-known examples. Compared to the problems of the cathedral model, this model fix bugs in a quick time by cooperation of different people. However, it also has problems of not stable and it is often not free.


John mentioned “tragedy of the commons” by Garrett Hardin and Elinor Ostrom’s rebuttal on it (2013). Hardin imagined a pasture open to all and supposed that everyone would bring their animals on and they would keep bringing more and would eventually overuse the commons. He noted that people in the commons would be trapped in this situation and could not get themselves out of this situation. And what Ostrom believes is that people can find ways of regulating themselves and agreeing on their common rules just as empirical cases have shown.


“Tragedy of the commons” reminds me of the climate change and greenhouse effect we are going through on this planet. Every person think the earth is an open resource. Even if we save the resource ourselves, we think there will always be others overuse it. Under the idea that the commons belong to all of us, we don’t want others to use more than us, then we use a lot as well. And it is upset when we feel our effort to save the environment useless comparing to the huge amount of waste and destroy.


But people also come together and find ways to deal with environmental problems, like they set up the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). And just like Ostrom found out cases that contradict with the tragedy, I think people can find solutions to save our planet as well.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Your presentation this week was very informative for me because I had my own perception of hackers but you helped me become educated on the various layers there are to this topic. The “Tragedy of the commons” is a concept that I think applies to our society as a whole. Sometimes we get greedy when we compare ourselves to others. I think it’s important to spend time figuring out ways to avoid such acts.

    Also, in reference to your presentation, when you asked us if we thought the head of the media sharing company should be held accountable, I think not. When platforms are created for people to share, it’s really hard to manage and police it. I think sending him to jail was more about a message than about justice.


  2. oalbishri says:

    Hi Yi,
    I like your explanation for the idea of “the tragedy of the commons.” I haven’t thought or heard of it before. The idea of “tragedy of the commons” can also be applied to the idea of file sharing especially in countries that do not have real intention to protect copyrights. People in this countries may say to themselves “if everybody in this country is getting his movies books music via file sharing, so why do I need to go to purchase them while I can get them like any others for free.” This is the case in Saudi Arabia. People there do not feel they have to pay for movies if they can get via torrent.


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