What is Open Source culture? What does it mean to me?

Think about a large corporate company. Such a company is structured, systematic, primed to do things that experts around the world are hired to do to perfection. People come and go through revolving doors, experts are hired and fired or retired. CEOs are hired and fired. Many get jobs that are monotonous, mere cogs in a machine. The company is a machine, it is relentless and untiring. The financial resources it controls and sits atop of are enormous.

Now think about a village or a small town. It is exactly what a company is not. It is not really as super efficient, it is very informal in terms of how it grows or develops. Inhabitants often are poor or do not have the best education but usually have a lot of involvement in their society around them. They have skin in the game. It is a bit chaotic and when it comes to financial resources, it would never really be able to compare to a large powerful multinational company.

But tiny villages do outlast companies. Large powerful multinationals do meet their end, over decades or over a century. Villages grow like the weed, almost seemingly by chance and randomly into cities at times and survive for centuries and in some cases thousands of years. They survive earthquakes, droughts, floods, economic crisis and several other disasters. They survive because they are not machines, they do not break down completely, they adapt and survive.

Now think of several hundred such villages, towns and cities. What we have, is essentially a living civilisation!

Wait what does this have to do with open source?

Well, an open-source project is a lot like that village. It is like a living organism, it survives because it engages with people, it is not a machine that can break down.

It can grow pretty relentlessly but in unpredictable ways. For example, Unix and Linux as projects which many an expert thought would not be able to survive the might of Microsoft, today powers 67.0% of the web servers.

I have been involved over the past 3 years around community building around WordPress – an open-source project in Mumbai and lately in Pune. So I am more tuned into WordPress community and news around it.

Today, the WordPress CMS is used on 26% of websites that are out there. Not bad for a CMS ridiculed of being just good for blogging. Maybe it is because it was just that, a good blogging software, not pretentious and easy to start using than others, but that can be another post someday.

This happens because the community around WordPress or Unix (mainly Linux) is alive, is a living organism and it is so very deliberately – so that it can adapt, absorb and outlast all machines out there by centuries.

So open-source is a philosophy?

Yes. In many ways it is. In technical terms, the source code of the software is made open. So you can play around with it, customise it, rewrite it – no questions asked. But it means very little, without a sense of culture around it.

A culture to share expertise, make it accessible and easier to use for others. A culture that is not just about learning something and becoming an expert to get paid gigs – but a culture that nurtures understanding and expertise in others and you.

The software would not last too long without a culture of freedom and openness around it. This is why it is called FOSS – Free and Open Source Software.

WordPress culture?

Code contributions, free plugins and themes, free tutorials, free support over forums, free volunteering of time and effort to write content, translate content for the WordPress project, free time and effort to organise local meetups and WordCamps, all are many different ways we can contribute to the culture of WordPress.

It is what will keep WordPress more like a living organism and less like a machine!

Companion Links

  1. Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric S Raymond – A great book that explains how this culture of community feedback and contribution works better against a more streamlined, structured style of development. The book will give you good insights into the history of FOSS movement.
  2. Revolution OS –  A documentary that starts with the GNU movement and is great for understanding early days of Linux growth and its blossoming.
  3. The Story of WordPress – A book that is hosted on Git. Its free and open for anyone with internet to read up. It will take your through a through history of WordPress and its growth and breakthroughs.

PS: Thanks Saurabh for telling me about Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric S Raymond during a conversation.

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