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A Voice in the Dark

In AD 2101 war was beginning. What happen? Someone set up us the bomb! We get signal. What? Main screen turn on. It's you. How are you gentlemen!! All your base are belong to us!! You are on the way to destruction. What you say? You have no chance to survive. Make your time. HA HA HA HA.... Take off every 'Zig' You know what you doing! Move 'Zig' For great justice.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Dave Rosenberg has some thoughts on how we don't have enough open source thinkers.

I think the problem is more that we don't have enough thinkers who support open source.

That is a rather significant difference.

I like to think that I'm an open source thinker. I think about open source a lot, and I've come to a basic conclusion: open source only works reliably under a set of circumstances that no longer exist. One of the most important circumstances in that set is the technology-centric nature of open source users.

Open source works when the people who use it also support and develop it. Until recent years, this was naturally the case because the only people on the internet in the first place were at least semi-competent developers. Chances were good that any random person you spoke to on the internet knew a fair amount of the C programming language and was reasonably comfortable with at least one Unix shell. So chances were pretty good that if some random person asked for help with application X, that same random person would at some point make a useful addition to the code of application X. Since we all want useful additions to our applications, it was in our best interest to help that random person.

Today, chances are pretty good that the person asking for help is not a programmer, will never be a programmer, and has absolutely no interest in ever helping anyone else. These people register for support forums, ask their questions, and check back until they get answers. Once they have the answers, they don't even say "thanks" - they just run off. They take what they want and contribute nothing. Even in the most indirect sense, you generally find - when you've done some digging - that this person isn't just contributing nothing to your project, he's contributing nothing to any project, and he's not even doing anything interesting.

It is no longer in our best interest to help this random person. Open source development is very much an economy of attention and expertise; we give our attention and expertise to the questioner, in order to receive his attention now and his expertise in the future. When we will receive neither, and we know this, our attention and expertise are frequently withheld simply because they have a nonzero value to us.

We've chaffed the community. All of our valuable, thoughtful, and useful members are now concealed in a vast cloud of the meaningless and worthless and pointless. That doesn't make the valuable and thoughtful and useful members any less so, but it does dilute how valuable and thoughtful and useful the community is as a whole. And when the community is effectively garbage, so is open source. Without a solid, reliable community, open source just plain doesn't work. Our community has gone rapidly downhill, and shows no signs of slowing or stopping its descent.

What's worse, nobody is the least bit interested in doing anything about this. The general attitude of the community is that things will just work, the same way they always have. But they don't. They haven't been working for a long time. And until we get off our collective arses and fix it, things are only going to deteriorate.

Eventually, Larry Wall or Tim O'Reilly will say "the open source community is failing" - and people will listen. But nobody listens to people like me, and I'm sure I'm not the only person out here seeing this. It isn't that there are no open source thinkers, it is that the open source community doesn't listen to the thinkers. They only listen to the cheerleaders. Whenever I air my thoughts on Slashdot or some similar site, I'm dismissed as another "open source doomsday" prophet. But what I'm saying is not "we are all doomed", it's "we must fix this".

It can be fixed.

We just have to want to fix it.


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