There Is No Open Source Community
Subject:   Not so fast :@)
Date:   2006-01-16 11:41:12
From:   john.mark
Response to: Simplistic argument

I think this is something about which reasonable minds can disagree. You are not the only person to argue that I'm forgetting the creativity of users and developers involved in open source production. Far from it. The individuals involved certainly did some incredible work, but that work does not exist in a vacuum, and the internet allows that work to morph in ways that the original author could never have foreseen or intended. I view this in much the same way that I view neo-libertarians who have a love affair with the self-made man (or woman). Just as I don't believe in the self-made man, I also don't believe in the supremacy of the individual open source author. Without internet proliferation, open source is not nearly as successful as today, and I see nothing in your talkback to argue otherwise.

There are many technology communities, some of which gather around open source, some of which don't. I cannot tell you how many times I've heard developers and business people talk in revered tones about this massive, homogenous "open source community". When I ask them who it is, they can't begin to tell me. I would argue that the communities form around certain technologies, and the fact that it's open source just means that it's easier for people to join up. It democratizes the process, just like the internet democratizes the access to said software and communities.

You can disregard web surveys all you want, but the fact is that an overwhelming majority of individuals have responded to these surveys stating that their involvement stems from their interest in the technology instead of some ideological motivation. To the extent that participants enjoy being a part of something so disruptive as open source is difficult to say.

And again, I'm not including the free software movement in this, because that's all about ideology. The technology is just a happy by-product.

In any case, I can see why others think that I'm disregarding the individual contributor far too much, and as I said, this is something about which reasonable minds can disagree.


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  • Not so fast :@)
    2006-01-17 04:30:17  loca [View]

    Well, I certainly agree with the point that the Internet has intensified the success of open source. But to avoid the either/or kind of argument, I think a more nuanced position advocating the co-construction of open source technologies might be better (i.e. both structure *and* agency were important - technology and users/developers).

    In any case, I think in trying to find a kind of empirical 'community' is barking up the wrong tree. The open-source community could function more as an 'imagined community' (rather like the way that Benedict Andersen famously argued) so that it is the belief it exists that creates the feeling of belonging to a community (which may or may not be empirically verified). This could then feed into an eventual 'real' community as people start to map it, draw up technology support systems (like fora and wikis) and start to develop a set of common values. This raises the interesting question as to what extent the open-source community is building itself ;-)

    I think you should also be careful about asserting the 'ideology' of free software without a critical attention to the underlying ideology of the open-source advocates (even being apolitical is a political position, afterall). I would suggest looking at

    Which is an attempt to map these divisions and try to understand how the technical can also contain values (and by definition politics).

    However, I do think you have made some important arguments, and raising them for debate is always to be applauded.


  • Forgot to add...
    2006-01-16 12:27:59  john.mark [View]

    ...that cost makes the whole ecosystem viable. Yes, the free software community/ecosystem would exist regardless, but it would not be running nearly as much of the world's IT infrastructure, as is the case now.

    The exact relationship between cost and the internet is yet to be worked out. I hope some brilliant economist does some research into what effects zero-cost distribution and copying have had on the software industry. My entire argument rests on the assumption that this drives cost downward, and this downward price pressure makes the open source ecosystem viable. This is usually the point at which I begin to argue with staunch open source proponents, who insist that a core community drives open source. My opinion is that they are trying to assert that the tail wags the dog.