Next time you’re in an atmospheric building, imagine it’s a ship. When walking outside again, you’ll be stepping on new shores, a world you hadn’t expected. Things are probably more like that than we realise, even as we wait for the 21st century to pull something ‘not-flat-earthish’ out of the bag. One of the transformative currents we seem to be in the midst of, one we can point to today is the ‘Open Source’ philosophy that borders on a religion amongst those who code. A few tasters and explanations then.
What is Open Source?
As the free Wiki-pedia states ( more on that later ), “the open-source movement is a large movement of programmers and other computer users to give easy access to computer software.” And if you’ll bear with me for a second, you’ll come to see that ‘open source’ is more than just some hacker or warez pirate collective. It’s more a participatory model of getting things done, that allows many people to contribute to particular parts of work, and leaves the results of the work open for further modification by others. This open access approach means that projects may benefit from the combined brainpower and tweaking efforts of thousands of people. Why it seems to be kicking in big now, is simply – the internet – and the means to link the work of remote collaborators together. However the Open Source philosophy resonates with much more than software. It just happens that coders got to it first, living as they tend to, near online.
Who Owns What in the 21st Century
Throughout the information economy and especially controversial tastiger_preserved.jpg
within the biotechnology field, ‘Intellectual Property’ and ‘Copyright’ battles are being fought between large godzilla like corporations, thrashing about in the public sphere. Within science, excessive patenting of ideas and concepts restricts their use to the patent owner, and stifles development. And as we map out the body of human genes, the ownership battles are only intensifying. Within the info.sphere we’ve witnessed companies from last century struggling to come to terms with the idea that their models of ownership and distribution no longer apply. Many are already adapting though.
What’s In It for Me?
Maybe when browsing the web, you might’ve used the quite zippy and well featured Mozilla browser? This was collaboratively developed, and benefits from ongoing debugging and improvements by an extended network of coders the globe over. Behind your browser though, lies an operating system of some sort – which usually cost money and are ‘closed’ to major modification by others. Linux however, is a free operating system originally created by Linus Torvalds with the assistance of developers around the world. And the source code for Linux is freely available to everyone to do with as they wish. Which means there are various types of linux operating systems out there, tailored to different machines and uses. There’s even a version you can use to transform your X-Box into a meaty computer. But again, it’s about more than software.
Wikipedia is an ‘open content’ encyclopedia of sorts. (When the open source idea is applied outside source code, it tends to be called ‘open content’ ) Founded by the guy who earlier had popularized the idea of web-rings, Wikipedia has grown in 2 years to become a collaboratively built encylopedia with
168548 articles in the English version. Anybody can add an entry. Anybody can edit an entry. Like much ‘open source’ ideas, the application of this depends on good structure for the project, an architecture that maximises collaborative inputs and harnesses feedback. Effective licensing of projects is also a hallmark of open source, which specify in which ways the free content may be used or not. See also creativecommons.org for ways to licence your music so others can use it. And in the end, something must be going ok at Wikipedia, because it now outranks Britannica online in popularity.
Also inspired by the success of community built sites such as Slashdot.org, these cats are on a mission to build the biggest and most comprehensive electronic music database (www.discogs.com). Discographies of all labels, all artists, all cross-referenced. The site is constantly under construction as it grows. And you can help! If you’re browsing the site and see something missing, use one of the “Add Label”, “Add Release”, or “Update Information” links. You can also add your comments and feedback on any artist, label, or release. I did a quick check for the relatively recently appearing robot-boy, AC/3P in Sydney – and sure enough he’s there, mentioned as an artist with an appearance on the ‘Ministry of Shit’, CD (Spasticated Records Australia).
The directors of the film at nothingsostrange.com/open_source are arranging to allow people access to all their material, so they can edit their own versions if they want. It features a Bill Gates assassination, so if you’re keen? Open Cola prints it’s recipe online, and there’s a range of open source projects out there from cookbooks to law and medical projects, all harnessing the brains and work of many, and leaving the results available so others may add to and improve them. Well worth reading up about, over at Wikipedia.