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.