So, I keep this blog as politically “neutral” as I can. You came here for technology, so I’m not going to sound off about deficit spending or ruminate about “strategery” on O’Reilly.com, but CSPAN was on in the background all day and I couldn’t help myself. I have a big CSPAN problem, and I have wasted many a day watching the minutae of governance. Some prefer sports; I opt for Senate hearings and BookTV. Read what the founder of CSPAN - Brian Lamb - said about TV in ‘99:
“I grew up with television being controlled by three men living in New York City. Everything trickled down from those three men, William Paley, Leonard Goldensen, and David Sarnoff. Now, they were just being good businessmen. They maneuvered to get the licenses first in radio, then in television. They set the standards for what television was going to be, and because there were only three, they tried to appeal to everyone all the time. But that is just not democracy.” - Brian Lamb, August 1999 Organization of American Historians
CSPAN makes our government more transparent. And, Brian Lamb’s experiment in transparency reminds me of the transparency of open source decision-making. What makes something like Linux successful isn’t the availability of code; most people never even see it. The important part of open-source is transparency and a decision-making process open to public criticism. Do I believe that transparency makes a better piece of software? Not at all; any project can fail. But, I do feel more comfortable trusting a decision-making process I can follow. In other words, open source isn’t about source at all, it is about transparency and the ability to watch and/or participate in an ongoing discussion. Open-source is a kind of digital democracy (or meritocracy).
Take Lamb’s quote and think of it in the context of technology (”s/licenses/patents/g” and “s/television/internet/g”). Although, not a direct analogy, CSPAN provides the same service as a developer mailing list at the ASF or a discussion list at the W3C. Why should only Microsoft have a say in defining the format of our office documents? or the architecture of our operating systems? So, keep Lamb’s quote in mind when you think about AOL, Debian, and Apache’s rejection of the Microsoft Sender-ID proposal. Letting Microsoft hold a patent to a pivotal piece of core internet infrastructure is “just not democracy”.
What do you think? Should we elevate Brian Lamb to his rightful position as “Pioneer of Open-source Government”?