[MUD-Dev] Information sharing (was: Re: Where are we now?)

Brian 'Psychochild' Green brian at psychochild.org
Thu May 3 13:29:07 New Zealand Standard Time 2001


I'd put a [BIZ] tag on this, but it might scare away free MUD
developers.  I think this message is important to them as well.

"Koster, Raph" wrote:

> The recipe for advancing the field is a) share knowledge of what's
> been done b) innovate on it c) go back to step a).

Let me get up on my soapbox and harp a bit about one of my favorite
topics, information sharing.  My focus is on commercial developers,
but this also applies to free MUD developers.

To begin, Raph is correct in his above statement.  Yet, knowledge and
information simply does not get shared.  Why?

On the commercial side of things, the industry as a whole is loathe to
share information.  There are a few bright spots.  For example, Raph
and Rich Vogel gave an absolutely wonderful presentation on the last
day of the GDC about advanced MUD development patterns and theories.
It was one of the few presentations this year I attended that wasn't
just a retread of what amounts to industry conventional wisdom.  (I
expect more of the same next year, Raph. ;)

Conferences help with the share of information, but a few days out of
an entire year to share innovations isn't very complete.  While MERA
was a great success, IMHO, one day simply wasn't enough to share
everything.

The cause for this knowledge hiding is simple given the history of the
software industry.  With the whole issue of intellectual property
getting big press, every yahoo with two neurons to fire thinks that
his or her ideas are the most original thing since sliced bread.
Given US governmental and legal realities, absurd patents for software
are granted and then damn near impossible to topple given legal
costs. Companies have been formed with the express intent of
formulating "innovations", patenting them, then sitting on them until
they can charge royalties (or trade for other patents).  Therefore,
people have come to believe that saying something that your competitor
could benefit from is like giving away revenue.

If you stop to think about it, it's actually an interesting case
example of the Prisoner's Dilemma.  If everyone shares information,
everyone benefits.  If one person shares information and others don't,
then they lose a competitive advantage.  If no one shares information,
then no one benefits.  The industry is currently doing the most
effective strategy in an interative prisoner's dilemma simulation:
repeating what the other player did last round (IE, not sharing
information).

Unfortunately, the capitalist way of thought also dictates how this
will end; the first person to share information loses.  If your
competitor starts giving away information, then why not just take the
information and not reveal your own?  It is the most beneficial action
in the short term.  Companies are almost never known for thinking
long-term.

Given my experiences with free MUDs years ago, I saw a similar pattern
int he world of free servers; one only had to consider ego instead of
profit motive.  Lots of MUD players go on to create their own
MUDs. Why?  Usually because they want the ego gratification of making
their own MUD and pushing around the players unfairly just as they
felt they were pushed around unfairly as a player.

In codebase development, everyone has an opinion.  People often prefer
to start from scratch instead of learning about what worked and what
didn't.  Very rarely do you see teams of people working on large
projects, usually because people in general aren't willing to accept
the fact that their ideas sometimes suck and that someone else can do
a better job.  It took a bit of soul searching for me to finally put
aside issues of ego and just start learning from those that have more
ability and those that have more experience.

Again, the unwillingness to learn from other sources is sometimes due
to legal pressures.  For example, some codebases have strict credit
attribution and others have restrictions on code use in certain (read:
commercial) endeavors.

What's the solution?  I could be optimistic and say that it's that
everyone gets together and shares knowledge.  MUD-Dev is a good start
to this process.  I actually feel bad when I don't get enough time to
participate in the discussions on the list because I don't feel that
I'm holding up my end of the bargain.  I like to think I have a lot of
experience and interesting ideas to share. :)

But, the pessimist in me says that capitalist tendencies will win out
on a macro scale.  Business suits with only next quarter's bottom line
in mind would die before giving out vital "intellectual property" and
"competitive advantages" to the industry in general, even if they
could benefit more from everyone sharing information with each other.
The suits know know that there's no incentive for anyone else to do
the same, and if they share when no one else does, it only hurts them.

Ironic that in an industry that's largely concerned with creating
communities, we have a hard time forming our own community to really
share information.

Off the depressing soapbox for a bit.

--
"And I now wait / to shake the hand of fate...."  -"Defender", Manowar
     Brian Green, brian at psychochild.org  aka  Psychochild
       |\      _,,,---,,_      *=* Morpheus, my kitten, says "Hi!" *=*
 ZZzz  /,`.-'`'    -.  ;-;;,_   "They're not bugs, they're 'place-
      |,4-  ) )-,_..;\ (  `'-'    holders for code that works.'"
     '---''(_/--'  `-'\_)         - Andrew Kirmse, Meridian 59 creator
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