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Opening up the Open Source concept
Jamais Cascio, 30 Oct 03
It's no secret that we here at have an affection for the "open source" concept*. The idea of making the inner workings of a technology or process not just visible, but accessible, is deliriously seductive to those of us who think that collaborative, democratic approaches can change the world. And, although "open source" is commonly understood to be a software-writing practice, it's clearly meant for bigger and even better things.

To wit: Thomas Goetz's piece in the November issue of Wired, Open Source Everywhere. This is one of the better articulations of just how broadly the idea of open, collaborative, distributed innovation can be used. It begins with a good, solid example of how open source works outside of the software realm, and builds a powerful case for the use of the technique across a wide spectrum of applications. Unlike many relatively mainstream articles about open source, he manages to explain the concept clearly enough for beginners without being patronizing, while still providing sufficient new material for veterans to chew on.

The sidebars to the piece are well worth reading, as well. One of the first, "The Ideals of Open Source," includes this tidbit which, to me, sums up precisely why the open source concept can be revolutionary:

Open source etiquette mandates that the code be available for anyone to tweak and that improvements to the code be shared with all. Substitute creation for code and the same goes outside of software. Think of it as the triumph of participation by the many over ownership by the few.

* Note: By using "open source," we're not taking philosophical sides in the battle between the Open Source supporters and the Free Software movement; if anything, we have a leaning towards the Free Software perspective. Unfortunately, the term "Free Software" is a bit too (a) ambiguous (hence the need for "free like beer" vs. "free like speech" distinctions) and (b) narrow ("free software biotech" doesn't really make sense, for example, and "free biotech" runs into the free vs. free ambiguity). The term "open source" packs more of a semiotic punch.

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