Freedom to share

October 1st, 2002

Phil Windley, blogging CIO of the State of Utah, admires Jeremy Zawondny’s sharing. I do too.

I’ve noticed with myself though, that my sharing-ness tends to rise and fall with my sense of security. When I’ve got lots of business and no worries, I’m a veritable sharing phenom, but my willingness to participate and to share has dropped considerably this year since I’ve been more interested in finding enough paying business to get by.

It’s not as though I’m constantly heads down on jobsearching, it’s that philosophically, I’m currently not wanting to give away things that might be used to help me make a living.

I make my living by consulting and programming. I do stuff that most people can’t or don’t do, and figure out stuff that other people need to know. When I’m plenty busy, I’m happy to share my excess knowledge. However, when I’m wondering how to pay the mortgage, I’d like people to consider paying me for information that gives them value, and therefore, I’m much less likely to solve their business problems unless they do.

I’ve taken enough of an interest in the past in Remote Scripting, a DHTML trick to make web pages more interactive, that I’ve become fairly well known as an expert on the subject. It’s my sharing that has brought this “fame”. I regularly receive and answer all sorts of questions from people wanting to learn the concepts involved. I do so happily, because I want to spread knowledge.

Lately, however, I’ve had an increase in the amount of people who are not visiting my site to learn how to do it themselves, but are there looking for solutions to their problems – Microsoft’s RS not working any more due to browser or JVM problems, how to adapt their specific app to remote scripting.

Surprising numbers of people expect me to actually perform the legwork of solving their problems for them, and further, expect me to do it for nothing. When I suggest they can hire me to do the work, some are positively insulted that I would suggest it and blast me as crass and commercialistic. Without fail these are people who are approaching me as employees of a company whose problem needs fixing. I rather doubt they’re working for free, but they expect me to.

I love Open Source. I use it all the time. I believe in its future. But it can’t work unless it’s being practised and subsidised by people who are in a position of security and comfort. That may mean companies like IBM and MySQL and O’Reilly who support Open Source by allocating resources or funding to it, or it may mean employed or independent but secure people who have the time and magnanimity, or it may mean students whose commitments and responsibilities leave enough room for it.

I have no free knowledge to spare. Right now, you gotta either pony up for it or wait till I’m flush again to catch my overflow.

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