Len DiMaggio's post about his experiences within three different communities is essentially a tale of why those of the open source variety have come to represent a successful form of technology-centric commonwealth. Still, a vision for the next generation of the commons isn't unique to the realm of technology, just as my observation of it isn't groundbreaking. So even if all open source communities aren't created equal, there are several characteristics that stand out amongst those which flourish. Qualities and tendencies which are often taken as a given within the context of open source but can and do go missing within other types of communities.
Attacking unnecessary participation barriers
I probably sound like a broken record by now, but it's worth mentioning again: Community is only as good as its ability to attract a diverse range of contributions. For open source software it's the transparent source code at the nexus of communal activity, even if succeeding layers of value built atop this core aren't directly related to open source code. In the same manner that businesses look to eliminate barriers to acquiring customers, communities that want to succeed must dismantle encumbrances affiliated with participation. For example, Ubuntu is doing a commendable job harnessing the participatory potential of a world wide user base by maintaining tabs on local Ubuntu teams through its LoCoTeamList.
That being said, all participation isn't necessary or even desirable, only the variety that aligns commensurate ability with community need. Some barriers are natural and inevitable, i.e. ones of skill and knowledge, yet there are more which remain to be addressed. James McGovern pointed out the need for more commitment to secure coding practices in open source projects as a qualifying factor for contribution. I've yet to examine the Alfresco code base, but, assuming James is accurate in his statement, this is a sterling example of one barrier which can and should be addressed. Iterations of code clean up and refactoring would do nothing but bring those in James' corner closer to becoming participants as opposed to observers while ratcheting up software quality.
It's common sense that when individuals are made stakeholders in the success of an entity they are far more willing to ensure that success. The most obvious motivation is the prospect of benefiting as a stakeholder. The added flexibility of use can transform those who would typically be passive software consumers into [potentially] active contributors...more ways to benefit creates more avenues of participation and give back. The essentially powerless dependence otherwise known as lock-in is replaced by informed buy-in driven by an ease of initial acquisition. As a result, commercial open source companies have been able to reap the benefits of engaging a newly empowered customer with a shorter and significantly less expensive sales cycle.
Cooperative association with a larger ecosystem
In the past I've attempted to document the benefits of collective competition and the positive effects of what is basically an intricately intertwined ecosystem of open source software. The parallel here is that individual open source communities benefit from membership within the global superset of communities connected by the open source development model, in all its varied forms. The underlying commonalities in terms of identity, direction and methods affiliated with a commitment to open source have served as a rising tide, lifting all boats worthy of being lifted. Even as the model has proven viable to a larger segment, quality open source has consistently enabled more and more high quality open source of different shapes, sizes and focus. Are markets finite? Yes. Do the rules of capacity and competitive dynamics still hold? Of course. However, avenues of cooperation between open source communities have proved more than a competent balancing force.
What it means
Even if the words community, open, or commonwealth aren't currently associated with profitable companies and sustainable business models, it's only a matter of time before they are. Effectively competing in the Participation Age is slowly becoming compulsory with embracing the concept of communities. As it stands, open source has been a working model for harmoniously coagulating commercial interests with the commons. Hopefully this balance will be kept allowing further growth to strengthen the incentive towards more of the same across the board. In the meantime, transparency will prove to be a bonus as participatory boundaries continue to go the way that numerous physical boundaries have already tread...towards extinction.