This post is part of a world wide “blog action day” where thousands of bloggers post their unique insights about a single theme. For 2012, it’s the “power of we is as a celebration of people working together to make a positive difference in the world, either for their own communities or for people they will never meet half way around the world.”
I’ve choosing open source software because I think that we are establishing models for building ideas collaboratively that can be extended beyond technology into broader use. The way we solve open source challenges translates broadly because we are the tool makers of the global interaction.
I started using open source¹ as a way to solve a problem; I did not understand community or how groups of loosely connected people came together to create something new. Frankly, the whole process of creating free software seemed to be some hybrid combination of ninja coders and hippy hackers. That changed when I got involve on the ground floor of the OpenStack project (of which I am now a Foundation board member).
I was not, could not have been, prepared for the power and reality of community and collaboration that fuels OpenStack and other projects. We have the same problems as any non-profit project except that we are technologists: we can make new tools to solve our teaming and process problems.
It is not just that open source projects solve problems that help people. The idea of OpenStack and Hadoop being used by medical researches to find cures for cancer is important; however, the learning how to build collaboratively is another critical dimension. Our world is getting more connected and interconnected by technology, but the actual tools for social media are only in their earliest stages.
Not only are the tools evolving, the people using the tools are changing too! We are training each other to work together in ways that were beyond our imagine even 10 years ago. It’s the combination of both new technology and new skills that is resetting the rules for collaboration.
Just a few years ago, open source technology was considered low quality, risky and fringe. Today, open source projects like OpenStack and Hadoop are seen as more innovative and equally secure and supportable compared to licensed products. This transformation represents a surprising alignment and collaboration between individuals and entities that would normally be competing. While the motivation for this behavior comes from many sources, we all share the desire to do collaborative effectively.
I don’t think that we have figured out how to really do this the best way yet. We are making progress and getting better and better. We are building tools (like etherpad, wikis, irc, twitter, github, jenkins, etc) that improve collaboration. We are also learning building a culture of collaboration.
Right now, I’m on a train bound for the semi-annual OpenStack summit that brings a world wide audience together for 4½ days of community work. The discussions will require a new degree of openness from people and companies that are normally competitive and secretive about product development. During the summit, we’ll be doing more than designing OpenStack, we will be learning the new skills of working together. Perhaps those are the most important deliverables.
Open source projects combination of both new technologies and new skills creates the Power of We.
PS¹: Open source software is a growing class of applications in which the authors publish the instructions for running the software publicly so that other people can use the software. Sometimes (but not always) this includes a usage license that allows other people to run the software without paying the author royalties. In many cases, the author’s motivation is that other users will help them test, modify and improve the software so that improves more quickly than a single creator could do alone.