If you are a programmer, chances are that you love github. Github is the enormously impressive host of millions of code repositories (almost 4 million at the time of this post). It describes its mission as “[making] it easier to collaborate with others and share your projects with the universe” and “lowering the barriers of collaboration by building powerful features into our products that make it easier to contribute.” By offering public repositories for free and charging for private repositories, it incents keeping code public, allowing the sharing and building on code.
In all its incentives to be as open and collaborative as possible, the “github” model is another framework for an engaged network of customers and suppliers which reduces information asymmetries. The natural question to ask is how to extend this github model to create this open, collaborative dynamic in areas other than programming.
This is a useful model in the situation described in my recent post — professions that rely on models that evolve over time, where other members of the community can benefit by having access to those models, for reuse or adaptation, and where the contributor gains in multiple ways by sharing. A github infrastructure brings the power of open-source collaboration to areas that can benefit from such collaboration. Such a system should have the following characteristics among others:
- It should be modular down to a single unit, think a certain type of financial model or contract provision, and also be able to group units together so that the depositor can have a collection that can exist as a group, perhaps because the models interplay with each other, constituting a set, designed to achieve a particular objective, e.g., antitrust models by Joe Antitrust, Esq. for use in internet acquisitions as opposed to Sue Competition’s models useful in a natural resources industry; financing documents that are VC firm friendly or startup friendly; etc.
- One should be able to make it public to the world or private to a subset of the world, but public should be the default.
- Users should be able to take documents and “fork” off to make derivatives, so different users may take the same underlying state-of-the-art model and branch off in different directions due to use, preference, disagreement, etc. and changes should be tracked so an user can trace the evolution and forks.
- There should be metrics to identify the most popular models, so these are easily identifiable to users. Popularity can be defined in many ways, including times downloaded, viewed, forked, utilized in significant deals, etc.
- These metrics should have the potential to convey prestige so that there is an incentive to contribute, as a means of, for example, breaking into a field that uses other relics of prestige to keep folks out. So, to continue the antitrust example below, Joe Antitrust could establish credibility in a field dominated by lawyers at big firms, while Sue Competition, a relatively junior person at a big firm, could use her contributions as a way to establish her name instead of having to wait until her hair is gray.
Github models would be useful to contributors and borrowers, distinctions that would quickly blend, as all are participating in one creative conversation. By reducing the asymmetries in information that support inefficient markets, prices in professions that were able to achieve robust utilization of this model should be able to drive down cost.