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About collaboration

February 1, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

In recent years, as open source becomes more ubiquitous, I’ve seen a new breed of participants appearing. They push their code to GitHub like you would wear a very visible good behavior marketing badge. They copy code from multiple open source projects, modify it, but don’t contribute back their changes to upstream. They seem to consider open source as a trendy all-you-can-eat buffet combined with a cool marketing gimmick.

In my opinion, this is not what open source is about. I see open source, and more generally open innovation (which adds open design, open development and open community), as a solution for the future. The world is facing economical and ecological limits: it needs to stop designing for obsolescence, produce smarter, reduce duplication of effort, and fix the rift between consumers and producers. Open innovation encourages synergy and collaboration. It reduces waste. It enables consumers to be producers again. That’s a noble goal, but without convergence, we can’t succeed.

The behavior of these new participants goes against that. I call this the GitHub effect: you encourage access to the code, forking and fragmentation, while you should encourage convergence and collaboration on a key repository. And like having a “packaging made from recyclable materials” sign on your product doesn’t make it environment-friendly, just publishing your own code somewhere under an open source license doesn’t really make it open.

On the extreme fringe of that movement, we also see the line with closed source blurring. Building your own closed product on top of open source technology, and/or abusing the word “Open” to imply that all you do is open source, using the uncertainty to reap easy marketing benefits. I’ve even seen a currently-closed-source project being featured as an open source project to watch in 2012. We probably need to start playing harder, denounce fake participants and celebrate good ones.

Some people tell me my view goes against making money with open source. That might be true for easy, short-term money. But I don’t think you need to abuse open source to make money out of it. The long-term benefits of open innovation are obvious, and like for green businesses, good behavior and long-term profit go well together. Let’s all make sure we encourage collaboration and promote the good behavior, and hopefully we’ll fix this.

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Categories: Open source, Openstack, Ubuntu
  1. February 1, 2012 at 22:22

    You’ve described the githhub problem really well. This is one reason I do not like the github work flow. It encourages people to fork, and never merge their changes to the upstream Master.

    This is something Launchpad and bzr did very well. It made the upstream project more important than the developer’s branch.

  2. February 2, 2012 at 02:46

    Github is irrelevant to group behaviour in open source projects. Making a fork on github is the same as saying “Oh hey, this looks neat” and implies nothing else. On top of that, we now have GOOD and pervasive (due to github’s success) code collaboration and review tools if you do want to submit an idea (in code form, of course) back to some one/some project.

    Collaboration and community design are community, not tools, driven. Github only makes it easier.

    • Thierry Carrez
      February 2, 2012 at 08:41

      This post wasn’t really meant to be against GitHub. My point is that there is a trend in open source consumption and use as a marketing tool, and that trend is detrimental to collaboration and open innovation. By not blessing a “key” repository, GitHub kinda encourages fragmentation more than it encourages collaboration… but properly used, the GitHub tool certainly can be used by communities to collaborate, as we prove daily in OpenStack :)

  3. February 10, 2012 at 17:29

    Well said, Thierry.

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