Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Re: Opening Up Linux Journal and O'Reilly

Author:Lea Park
Posted:8/27/1999; 12:02:38 PM
Topic:Opening Up Linux Journal and O'Reilly
Msg #:10138 (In response to 9840)
Prev/Next:10137 / 10139

“The truth, from my point of view, is that some code should be distributed in source...... and some code should be maintained by a small group of focused and economically incentivized developers working for a strong leader.” -Dave Winer Msg #9991

Both Dave and Tim O’Reilly have expressed the point very well: “open source” and proprietary development are clearly complementary. But it’s hard work figuring what sorts of projects each is best at, and how they can work together. Dave’s question to O’Reilly about applying Open Source to publishing made me think (Thanks, Dave!)- Where has open source worked well?

It seems to me the greatest example of successful open source is what is loosely called “the scientific method”. Open source works here because the goal, discovering natural truths, is possible only if experiments can be reliably replicated. In fact, the ability to replicate is the very definition of such a “truth”, and the fastest way to do that is to widely publish all the details. In the past the process was supported by Patrons and the public. Successful scientists were rewarded with modest livings and blazing reputations. Their collaborative work underlies our material wealth.

Today agreement on what should remain in the public domain and what is properly patentable appears to be breaking down, in favor of patenting. I recently read an interview in the New York Times in which a scientist investigating teromeres (a part of the DNA strand implicated in aging) was asked to identify the specific sequence he was working on. He demured, saying he had applied to patent it. The interview didn’t define exactly what”it” was, but my chagrin may have been similar to what native Americans felt centuries ago when Europeans introduced the idea that one could own land, or water, or air.

The Oxford English Dictionary comes to mind as an example of open source in publishing. For a century and a half, the OED staff has volunteer "correspondents" to find new words. Capturing words as they emerged into common use, and documenting their first appearance in print- this is a project that cries out for an open source approach, much as the natural and social sciences do. But the dictionary’s publication has also required a paid staff and editorial leadership.

I think open source alone may be the very best model for projects whose primary goal is discovering truths can be replicated and verified by others. My candidates for projects that do well using a combination of both approaches are those whose goals require networking. Like railroads, scripting software, and the OED

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