Open source - a purer meritocracy?
So you might ask yourself why anyone would ever pour massive amounts of effort into something without getting paid to do it. The answer is simple, because they can do what they want to do, not what some manager, bug review board or marketing suit told them to. They can do what they think will be good for users (which they frequently are) or will make the code simpler, faster or easier to maintain. If what they do really is better, as proved by it being widely adopted and actually used, then their personal stock rises in the community and their worth as a for-pay programmer rises as well. But more importantly, their own self-respect rises.
This is one thing that open source programming shares with on-line video, podcasts and blogs. People do it because they enjoy it and because it makes them feel good about themselves.
And I think this unpaid, create-for-free open market of ideas, software and entertainment is a purer form of meritocracy than the for-profit, rapaciously competitive corporate world. Why? Because it's not controlled by money, it's controlled by quality. Good things become popular because they're good, not because they have a multi-million dollar ad campaign behind them, or because their producer paid a cable company or search engine to give it top billing.
And if nothing else, it's certainly a much more pleasant place to spend one's time.