Hacker sex and open source's children

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In five years Facebook has changed the world... or so the headlines scream. The phenomenon that is net-mediated social networking really hit the mainstream with Facebook.

Such social networking is not as new as Facebook, it has always been at the core of the Open Source developers’ community. The clue is in the word 'community'.

Facebook is, of course, from the ground up 100% Open Source. The technologies it uses are a gift to us all and ever since I read about the Open Source software culture being a manifestation of gift-giving behaviour I have not been able to get that thought out of my mind. Why do they do it?

I think I know. It's all to do with sex.

Many years ago I taught a socio-biology option as part of a senior biology ethology class. It was a very popular as well as contentious topic in the 1980's. Sociobiology is a study of the behaviour of humans set within the discipline of ethology. The 1980's twist is to add an evolutionary context to behaviour along the lines of Richard Dawkins' 'Selfish Gene' treatises.

Gift-giving is socially quite complex - close kin do most gift giving. Inferiors give to superiors as signs of subordination or respect. Peer groups often indulge in competitive gift giving as a sign of their economic status (in some societies this can even become a crippling gift-war) and superiors may give to inferiors to reinforce their status and indebt the receiver. That's about it. Gift-giving it follows usually has not much to do with altruism outside kin.

The unprecedented increase in economic wealth and growth since the 80's produced the so called 'consumer culture' characterised chiefly by the creation of artificial needs, individualism and personal gain, or so it seems.

But during the same period, and especially the last ten years, we have seen the most massive explosion in gift-giving behaviour.