Google and the networked economy

Red Herring latest piece about Google is an insightful explanation of how the company from Mountain View stay in touche with open-source projects.

Google founders (...) wanted some way to support young geeks, and hey, maybe it could tie into open source at the same time. (...) Mr. DiBona, a veteran advocate of open source, came up with a scheme of farming out coding projects to various open-source organizations and paying both students and mentors a stipend. The “Summer of Code” got the thumbs up —and $1 million to pay 200 students $4,500 (if their projects were successfully completed by September) and their mentors $500. (...) rather than earmark that money for charity or a public relations campaign, showing a little bit of goodwill to the geek crowd—even if somewhat haphazardly—could go a long way. The company’s leadership obviously likes the feeling of playing the role of benevolent university rather than corporate machine. Plus, Google uses the Linux kernel and plenty of open-source code, and it always wants to know about young developer talent, points out Mr. DiBona, so some benefits are more direct. “Some of these kids have done such a good job that we’d be fools not to hire them,” he says.

What is striking here is how Google benefits, supports and also sets the trend of a new economy based on networked and competent persons who jointly work together all around the world:

the company is functioning as a university as it creates a new kind of distributed lab. The Summer of Code students essentially sat in front of their personal computers in 49 countries for two months. Each one’s communication methods might have included message boards, phone, VoIP, email, instant messaging, video conferencing, and blogging—but hardly ever face-to-face conversations. “Developers should get used to the idea of globally distributed work groups all over the place, all over the time zones,” says Mr. DiBona. “It’s the future of software development.”