Maintaining the Digital Commons: A Comparison of Debian Linux and Irrigation Canals in Nepal
20 Pages Posted: 1 Jul 2016
Date Written: June 28, 2016
This paper compares the Debian Linux distribution with irrigation systems in Nepal. I ask how similar and different the reasons are that users change their involvement in maintenance and upkeep. As a collection of software tools that requires maintenance and upgrading, Debian is an example of digital infrastructure. It is also the common root of most current Linux distributions (the other two roots are RedHat and Slackware). The Nepali irrigation canals are paradigmatic examples of successful Ostromian commons governance. Both types of infrastructure – one digital and the other physical – are user managed. And both are popularly regarded as examples of “the commons.” Based on a review of the literature, my comparison supports the view that the specific maintenance tasks and the motivations of contributors for doing them, or not, remain important in the digital realm. I argue that governing the digital commons requires opening the black box of user-motivations for maintaining, not just creating, digital infrastructure. This will require broadening Ostrom’s approach in a fundamental way with respect to work and workers, possibly re-basing the framework on a broader set of behavioral possibilities.
Keywords: Nepal, Debian Linux, irrigation, infrastructure, behavior, canals
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